Pull Up A Chair…
I have been on a travel book kick of late. It’s a bit of escape reading for me, really, without having to actually leave the house.
There is a line in Out of Africa where Karin Blixen is asked whether she’s traveled much — she’s being teased about bringing Limoges to Africa to set up house. She replies that she has been "a mental traveler," meaning she’s done a lot of travel reading but never done much of the actual travel itself.
I fall into that category, partly because of budget constraints but, mostly and in all honesty, because life takes over and you forgo travel when you choose to do other things.
Some of my favorite books are those of Paul Theroux, whose acerbic wit and snarky attitude matches up so well with the idiocy of inane logistical snafus and rustling sweatsuit-clad tour groups with large cameras and tchotchke-seeking rapacious consumerism on their minds.
When I travel, I like to observe and soak things in where I happen to be in the moment, and so nattering on about the next shopping excursion down the road drives me batty. Theroux captures that irritation hilariously.
One of my all-time favorites of his is "Riding the Iron Rooster."
I re-read it recently when we were on the train back and forth from New York City. It turned out that both Mr. ReddHedd and The Peanut had caught the family ick that had gone around just as mine was beginning to ebb. What ended up happening is that both of them slept a lot on the train both ways, which gave me some quiet, uninterrupted reading time.
Despite the coughing and motherly worry, it was heaven. And I managed to read the entire book, cover to cover, from the time we left until just before we pulled back into Pittsburgh.
Another that I found enthralling was Colin Thubron’s "Shadow Of The Silk Road," also about China (I’m sensing a trend here.). His historical background is amazing, but it is his capacity to see both the good and bad in people that is captivating. For a more recent take on China, try Rob Gifford’s China Road — I’ve always loved his NPR reporting, and his book is a fascinating glimpse, especially about AIDS, Chinese bureaucracy and the difficulties in reporting real life details anywhere.
Two of my favorite books on the Afghanistan/Pakistan region capture difficulties — and historically inspirational underpinnings — as well. Jason Elliott’s "An Unexpected Light" remains a long-time favorite of mine precisely because his capacity for joy in the face of really tough odds is contagious. And I defy anyone to read Greg Mortenson’s "Three Cups Of Tea" and not come away inspired to do more, to be more.
The same with the classic diary of Alexandra David-Neel’s journey to Lhasa, Tibet back in the days when genteel European women just did not do those sorts of things. It’s an inspiring tale, even today, and one that truly takes you on a magnificent journey.
Also, speaking of Out of Africa, if you haven’t read Isak Dinesen’s classic narrative, you really should. For the pictures painted of life on the Mara, and the philosophical musings alone, it is well worth the read — but when you add in the fiesty spirit of a woman writer daring to buck convention? Priceless stuff.
But I’m always on the lookout for more and better travel works. So if you have a suggestion or two, I’d love it.
I read recently that, with the recession causing everyone to feel more of an economic pinch, book reading is on the rise. Something to be thankful for, I say. What have you been reading lately? Or watching — any good movies or music catching your fancy? Do tell. Pull up a chair…