Just read the novel Less in under 24 hours. I had to find out what happened next, then discover the ending. Andrew Sean Greer won the 2018 Pulitzer for fiction with this travel novel. Most booksellers will rightfully shelve it in fiction. I have placed it with my favorite travel reads.
Similar to Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, it is the tale of an author traveling the globe to escape heartache and to find oneself. Except that Arthur Less is fictional. In this story Arthur learns to love himself a little more as he turns the big 5-0. It also gave me insight into gay culture. The author also exploits the advantage of a narrator who seems to be in Arthur’s head. We travel with Arthur from San Francisco to New York City to Mexico to Turin Italy, to Germany, to Morocco, to India, to Kyoto Japan to the Vulcan Steps in San Francisco. The descriptions are delightful, awful, and sometimes also funny, depending on the circumstance.
I have started to highlight “sparkletts” that I love rolling off my tongue or around in my head. Samples from Less include: …that crazy quilt of a writer’s life: warm enough, though it never quite covers the toes …what he met were not young Turks but proud bloated middle-aged artists who rolled in the river like sea lions… The kind of guy who wore his bicycle helmet while shopping…knuckle-whitening rattletrap wellspring of trauma.
It got me thinking about the various books I’ve read to prep for travel or to temporarily satisfy the need for travel in my life. My favorite travel authors whose work I’ve read EVERYTHING include: Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island, and Tony Horwitz Confederates in the Attic. I just learned that Tony Horwitz has a new book coming out May 14, 2019: Spying on the South. (Just preordered!)
I consume a lot of podcasts. One of my favorites is What Should I Read Next? with Ann Bogel. And I was thinking about promoting the release of my travel guide for planning your own civil rights crawl. I thought about applying to be a guest–and there is a questionnaire to complete–so I’m practicing here. The topic I would want to discuss with her is travel literature. Not guidebooks, per se, but the broader idea of books where the characters or author travel. Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is a classic, but there are many more that take a little effort to find.
You may also find suggestions for the place you are traveling next from Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go. I have found some terrific books from her recommendations and some duds. Sometimes I discover that my interest in, say Norwegian, literature is limited. One of her recommendations is in my top three travel books I love:
1. Come On Shore and We Will Eat You All by Christina Thompson, a New Zealand story.
It is hard to choose among so many great books, and yet I remember #2 book having a tremendous impact on me, perhaps because my heart was already tenderized by Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham classics.
2. Looking for Lovedu by Ann Jones, a memoir of traveling from Africa top to bottom
Choosing the third book is really tough because there are so many options. I only have one continent left to visit–Antarctica. I have read the journals of explorers and book about penguins by scientists. When I was in Australia I discovered #3 on my list.
3. Shiver by Nikki Gemmell, a novel set in Antarctica
Ann Bogel also asks her guests for one book they hate (or didn’t care for if you hate the “h” word, haha). This is harder to select because some years ago I learned to abandon books I do not enjoy. In knitting an abandoned project is “frogged” so I write this in my the back of my journal with a note why. I had to rack my memory for a travel book I abandoned or read with a sour face. In college I tried reading something by Paul Theroux. I can’t remember exactly what but I was completely turned off by his tone of disdain for the place or for the reader or both, my memory is fuzzy after 35 years. Nancy Pearl tried to convince me to give him another try, but alas, one chapter in a book store and I returned The Great Railway Bazaar to the shelf. I will provide a more current answer though. After PBS began showing The Durrells television series, I mentioned to someone that I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I hoped (I love Keeley Hawes mostly). They said, “Oh, you have to read the book it’s based on! I loved it.” So I dutifully bought Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals about their life on Corfu and waited for it to get good. And waited. And waited till the end. It’s not for me.
Ann Bogel also asks guests what they are reading now. I have several books on the go, but in keeping with the theme of travel, I am reading next: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This stretches the theme of travel as it is historical fiction involving travel by hot air balloon.
If Ann Bogel asked me what I’d like to be different about my reading life, I’d be hard pressed. I love the variety of my reading, and the amount I read. I enjoy both printed books and e-books. I listen to a lot of podcasts but I’m not that keen on listening to books. Although sometimes the narrator experience tempts me–like when I heard a review of Lincoln at the Bardo–a book I struggled to read and keep the characters straight. Hearing Liz Dolan recommend the audio version with dozens of actors sounded like fun. I don’t like headphones either, so that makes it hard to listen to books on planes or in public. I was feeling bad about not getting more books from the library until I heard one of her guests refer to her book buying as being a patron of the arts. That’s me! Plus when I buy them used from Time Tested Books, or new from Avid Reader, I can share them with my mom and others and keep my local bookstores open.
I write this blog to inspire travel. I am pushing myself into writing travel guides, where I am much less comfortable, because I want to help people design their own more off-beat adventures. Just as Arthur Less and Elizabeth Gilbert learned aspects about themselves that they’d never had known if they had not left home, I always discover so much about what I love, what’s not for me, and what I want to do next when I travel. And always, I pack books I can leave behind so I can lug more books home that I discovered along the way.