There is actually a fifth book hidden in this article: this one on the picture is “Life Of Pi” by Yann Martel. A fantastic travel through the ocean, through doubt and belief (some will say Faith). I also found it in a Kyoto bookshop, and this picture was taken in Kyoto, while having a cup of green tea at our Kyoto guesthouse, away from the afternoon heat. © Carrie Speaking
I already said what I thought about writing List Posts. But they do come in handy sometimes. (Hear the snob!)
There are 4 books from my personal library that I’d like to share, either because they accompanied me through significant travels, or because they made me travel when I felt my wings where pinned to the ground (work, work, and work).
They are by no means representative of the rich literature on the topic (I even realize now that they were all written by male authors) nor the best. I did not carefully choose them, nor was I advised to read them. I literally stumbled upon these books: I discovered each and every one of them (books and authors) at random while wandering in second-hand bookshops around the world. I picked up Pete Fromm’s book in France in the "books" section of a hiking equipment shop, Bill Bryson’s book in a bookshop in San Francisco, Wilson’s edited series and Horwitz’s book in a bookshop in Kyoto, Japan.
They are pretty different from each other, so pick what you like!
Pete Fromm’s “Indian Creek Chronicles”
I couldn’t put this one down. This is a true story, and the author of the book is our main character. A young and bored student looking for adventure, Pete applies for a job: guarding salmon eggs for seven winter months in the mountains of Idaho. His arrival on site and what follows will be the coldest shower he ever took. Pete Fromm tells a modest, realistic and poignant story about his experience, his small but glorious moments of grace as well as his most terrible moments alone up there. For those of you who experienced wild camping, hiking and tramping through the wilderness, you will feel for him: you will know how, suddenly deprived of your landmarks, with your whole day dedicated to tending to the camp, taking care of the food, checking drinking water supplies, your experience of the world changes — even in a safe country and at a reasonable distance from “civilization” (meaning here: take-away warm food, landline phone services and shower cabins that do not need pumping). The book ends with a very nice afterword from the author, about how his later life and writing were affected. I was particularly moved by these words:
And as often happens, writing it all out, trying to find the connective tissue that holds a story together, I discovered more about that winter, much more than my previous simple view of having accomplished something hard or even a bit bizarre, of having gathered a few good stories.
The Best American Travel Writing (2000)
A series edited by Jason Wilson (year 2000 volume’s editor is Bill Bryson), The Best American Travel Writing is a series of collections of short stories about travel experiences all around the world. I was impressed by the quality of every single short story included in the book. I discovered new authors and new countries, new kinds of travel experiences. I loved this book because it reconciled me with short stories as a genre. Hopping from story to story, I didn’t feel disoriented at all: whether the editors tried to enhance this or not, all the stories in there are interconnected, they are part of the great, never-ending weaving that Travel performs, everywhere, every time, with and inside everyone. Before I let you discover these stories by yourself, I can’t help but quote the wonderful words of Jason Wilson in his Foreword to the volume:
“The more we know of particular things,” Spinoza wrote long ago, “the more we know of God”. This is perhaps never truer than with travel writing. Having a travel writer report on particular things, small things, the specific ways in which people act and interact, is perhaps our best way of getting beyond the clichés that we tell each other about different places and cultures, and about ourselves.
Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent
In French, we have an expression: “Je t’aime, moi non plus.” (“I love you, neither do I.”) This is a good way to describe how Bill Bryson seems to feel about his hometown, home state and the mid-east and mid-west areas of the United States. Remembering his late father, Bryson engages in a road trip through small-town America, from Des Moines, Iowa, to California and back. This book is humorous, witty, sarcastic, but also — I think — sensitive and generous. I was literally laughing out loud at Bryson’s disastrous and weird experiences with disastrous and weird people and places, as I was sighing with longing at his epiphanies and moments of peace. And the thing is, I was not laughing at the people and places he described. But with them, among them. I was having a mixed “damn them!” and “gosh I miss them!” kind of feeling. I think quoting the first sentence of the book pretty much puts you in the mood; all the rest, both sarcasms and epiphanies, await you in the pages that follow:
“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.”
Tony Horwitz’s “One For The Road”
The long title “Hitchhiking through the Australian Outback” is self-descriptive. Horwitz goes through a midlife crisis and wants to hit the road. To hit it hard. Reading through his journey through the outback, you don’t always know if you want to laugh, raise an eyebrow or half-open your mouth in dismay. In any case, you travel on and on: Horwitz has been caught by the Australian road and the latter won’t let go of him. He’s both trapped and carried further on. I let you decide whether you love it or hate it.
I loved this book for the contradictory feelings it put me through; for the author’s lucidity in his daydreaming:
At first I regarded these pubs as eccentric outposts on the way to the Main Event. Somewhere “out there,” I subconsciously supposed, a scene or character would bound off the horizon screaming “This is it, mate! Fair dinky Australia!” I would stumble across the gem (like the mythical prospector at Cloncurry) and carry its wealth with me back to the city.
That’s it for today.
I wish you a happy reading, and please feel free to respond and comment if you have any immediate or later insight about these books and authors.
PS: Did you read carefully enough to spot the fifth, hidden book of this article? :)
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