Friday, 14 October 2011

On the Road: armchair adventures

On this first Friday of the first guest series, I have given the Reluctant Housewife a day off.  She, no doubt, has her hands full keeping track of laundry in varying states of cleanliness having been hand-washed in hotel sinks across Morocco.  But all is not lost.  Today I give you a sister Reluctant Housewife in the form of Maggie. We are both overly-qualified and accidental homemakers finding a bit of contentment, albeit shaky, in ‘working’ from home.  Nothing gets the travel bug going like a good story and here Maggie gives us her favourites.

I’ll admit to being slightly stumped when Ariel messaged me the theme for the guest posts I’d be writing while she’s on holiday (that’s what they call it in the UK, right?). While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in my time (mostly via the generosity of my graduate program), it’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy the luxury of traveling  overseas… or even outside my own state. We went to Florida on our honeymoon. Memorable to us, but hardly the stuff of zany travel stories or frame-worthy, panoramic vistas.

I considered writing out some of my favorite personal memories, but realized most of them are either embarrassing (the time I pulled an accidental Marilyn Monroe-over-the-subway-grate, at the amusement park in Vienna) or funny only if you were there, and possibly also jet-lagged (that day we tried to see everything—and I mean everything—in the Louvre 3 hours before closing time).

So instead, I’ve decided to talk about armchair traveling. If you’ve got the travel bug but no money or vacation time, may I suggest the following books:

-The Art of Travel By Alain de Botton
“Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go.” –Alain de Botton, (from another book, A Week at the Airport: a Heathrow Diary)

If you don’t know who Alain de Botton is, you must head to a bookstore or library and immediately to check out his work (my favorite being his semi-fictional works on love). A Swiss writer and philosopher who now lives in London, de Botton’s work is smart, introspective, and will make you think about cliché topics (love, religion, happiness) in new ways. In this particular book, de Botton ruminates on the psychological reasons people travel, how memory and anticipation both mislead and soothe us, how we individually experience the world, and so on. He also references a wide range of poets, artists, writers, and pop culture touchstones. It’s a meaty book, but still accessible and will have you nodding along with his pithy observations.

-The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure By Rachel Friedman
Maybe it’s because my post-graduate school confusion mirrored Rachel Friedman’s own “What do I do now?” post-college turmoil, but I could put this book down. The insights Friedman stumbles onto during her travels aren’t revolutionary, but they’re familiar in a friendly way: “Oh, I felt that way, too!” She has a gift for relating her experiences in a tactile way, so that I often found myself shivering with her as she slogged through a South American bicycle tour in pouring rain or rolling my eyes in sympathy as she endures irritating travel companions. It’s a memoir about feeling lost and trying to find your place in the world, a topic that most twenty and thirty-somethings will instantly understand.

-The Burma Chronices By Guy Delisle
I’m a big, big fan of graphic novels. As someone with a penchant for illustration and a lifelong love of books (especially memoirs), the genre seems to me like an ideal marriage of words and art, each enhancing and refining the other. Guy Delisle is a Canadian graphic novelist who has lived and worked in many different countries. Delisle moves with his wife and child to Burma, so his wife can continue her work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). What follows is partly a serious, intellectual discussion of Burmese politics, and partly anecdotes about his struggle as a stay-at-home dad adjusting to a foreign culture. The Burma Chronicles is actually the latest book in a series of travelogues. I haven’t read his previous two: Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China or Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, but hope to get my hands on them soon.

-The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home
By Erin Einhorn
This isn’t strictly a travel memoir, since it focuses largely on the author’s attempt to find out the truth of what happened to her family during the Holocaust. But it is about memory vs. reality, about grappling with the past vs. forward motion, and about what it’s like to visit and live in Warsaw, Poland as an American Jew—a city that is beginning to thrive, but still carries deep scars from the past, like so many other countries in Eastern Europe. It reminded me of my visit to Budapest, a city that I loved, but one that is also still dealing with the after-effects of its tragic past. It’s a captivating, provocative memoir and a worthwhile read.

-How Did You Get This Number? By Sloane Crosley
This one is pure fun. While Sloane Crosley’s previous book, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, is a bit more giggle-inducing, these essays are breezy and entertaining, all loosely strung together on the theme of travel—and the inevitable misadventures it inspires. To give you a taste, here’s the opening line: “There is only one answer to the question: Would you like to see a three a.m. performance of amateur Portuguese circus clowns?”

-Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India By Anita Jain
I’m kind of obsessed with books on Indian matchmaking practices. Seriously. Name a book on that topic, and I’ve probably read it. This is a lightweight book about dating in India, more personal than scientific, but it really presents a close-up look at what it’s like to live in India nowadays, as an Indian-American single woman (not always easy). It’s dishy, honest, and fun; kind of like chatting with a girlfriend about her dating life, wrapped up in a discussion about the globalization of India and how things have changed—or haven’t.

1 comment:

  1. May we also suggest An Embarrassment of Manoges by Ann Vanderhoof? It's about a woman and her husband who take two years to set sail from Canada to the Caribbean. Love, love, LOVE that book.