Books for the holidays: Armchair journeys
Vail, CO, Colorado
The first visible signs of winter have arrived, and for most of us, the snow marks a hectic, but fulfilling schedule of work, ski, work, ski, work, ski. Powder days pepper reward throughout the season, but the big bonus arrives late April ” the offseason ” when work slows, or even stops, and we get to spend our hard-earned cash on distant travels.
I know what you’re thinking. We have a long, wonderful winter ” not to mention the holidays ” yet to enjoy. The official gift-giving season just started Friday. The mountain just opened Wednesday. Who is thinking about the offseason?
But there are always those people, and you know the type. Those bright candles who have “go” perpetually pulsing through their blood. Those who are already dreaming of the offseason and their travel plans. And for these passionate travelers, five months is a long time to wait until their next trip ” their next big experience. These people need help.
The perfect gift to temporarily tame anyone’s wanderlust is a good travel book, be it one particular to an upcoming journey, a memoir of someone else’s travel experience or simply a novel set in a faraway land that paints such a picture it inspires one to see the place for themselves. Call it an armchair journey or think of it as future research.
Aimee Goggins, marketing manager, author and photographer for Lonely Planet, which produces popular guidebooks for countries around the world, doesn’t like to read about a place before she goes there.
“I like to experience it with fresh eyes,” she says.
Sometimes she’ll pick up a book written by an author from the country she’s visiting to read when she returns for extra insight, but what usually inspires her to travel, and what she likes to read while traveling, is a good ol’ fashioned classic. A book that’s earned the classic title for a reason.
“Books that really capture you and awaken your senses, and make you more aware of your surroundings,” Goggins says. “My favorite book to read while traveling is ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (by John Steinbeck). It is the ultimate road novel. It’s so epic, so beautifully written that you are consumed by the reading process. I brought it to Thailand a few years ago and reread it. It’s not a book about our experience, but somehow it fit that adventure, and being on the road, I felt like I was living it.”
There are other well-written books, Goggins says, that have inspired her to travel to a particular place after reading them. Goggins was so inspired by John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierras” that she took a three-week camping trip through the famous Yosemite country.
“Maximum CIty: Bombay,” written by Suketu Mehta, a native of India, is about Mehta’s return to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) after a 21-year absence and what he rediscovers about the city’s new reality against his memories of it. That made Goggins want to travel to Bombay. There are also the usual suspects, she says, bestsellers ” like “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle and “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes ” that capture a place so well it makes you want to live that experience.
“People read travel books for the same reason we read in general,” Goggins says. “It transports you, and you are able to, literally, if it’s a good book and engaging, you are able to journey there in your mind. It’s a way to get out of your day to day. It expands your experience. It’s another way to experience life.”
Stephen Bedford of The Bookworm in Edwards says he doesn’t travel that much, but a good book can take him places. Most recently, he went to India with author Gregory David Roberts and his book “Shantaram.”
“It’s the end all be all book about India,” Bedford says. “After you read it, you want to hop on a plane and see it. He brings the city to life, the open-air markets and the bells that the women wear. He really captures the day-to-day life in Bombay, and it’s an interesting story to boot.”
Valley resident and avid traveler Dr. Dennis Wentz is a big believer in reading about the country before going there.
“I find it always enhancing in terms of your experience there,” he says.
Before he went trekking in Bhutan, the tiny country in the Himalayas between India and China, he bought several books. Unlike a country like Italy, where many people vacation, Bhutan’s government limits the number of tourists in an effort to preserve its rich culture. Wentz wanted to learn as much as he could from experts who had toured there before. Some of his favorite books on Bhutan include “Blessings of Bhutan,” by Russ and Blyth Carpenter, a compilation of essays that can be read individually chapter by chapter, and a beautiful photography book “Bhutan: Land of Thunder Dragon,” by John Berthold.
Right now, Wentz is preparing for a trip to Paris. He’s reading the old Henry James’ literary classic “A Little Tour in France,” a first-person narrative originally published in 1884.
“It’s fantastic in terms of understanding French thinking,” Wentz says. “It’s important to read about the culture so you can better relate to it once you get there, and people will appreciate the fact that you took the time to understand more about their culture and country.”
Like “A Little Tour in France,” there are plenty of memoir-esque books out there where the plot centers around travel. One of the most beloved is Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”
Nancy Pearl, America’s most famous librarian who has her own action figure, recommends readings for every mood, moment and reason in her books “Book Lust” and “More Book Lust.” When it comes to books about the beckoning road, Pearl likes Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: In Search of America,” in which Steinbeck and his poodle Charley wander the United States by car in 1960. She also suggests “Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea,” by Eric Hansen. Ten years after Hansen was rescued from a deserted island in the Red Sea by goat smugglers, he returned there to collect his buried journals which eventually became this book.
To inspire women, Pearl likes Isabella Bird’s account of her adventure from native England to America in “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” and Dorothy Middleton’s “Victorian Lady Travellers” about the brave female adventurers of the late 1800s.
Another anthology of old-time traveler tales is “Worlds to Explore: Classic Tales of Travel and Adventure from National Geographic.” Taking place way before guidebooks were born, these articles recount journeys from 1890s to the 1950s, when modes of transportation included railroad, steamship and camels.
There’s nothing like sitting down and picking the brain of an extensive traveler, and it’s not one sided, either. Expert vagabonds love to share their experiences, from who serves the best espresso in Spain to where the cleanest public restrooms are in Cuba or where not to eat the chicken in Thailand. It’s part of the traveler’s code.
For people looking for books with real life travel to-dos and must sees, and less of a narrative, Bedford suggests “10 Best of Everything: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers.” National Geographic writers break down every subject imaginable, from golf courses to how to spend a lazy afternoon to hamburger joints, into a 10-best list of recommendations. It’s a perfect gift for dreamers or people who have already requested spring vacation time.
Another good guidebook is Lonely Planet’s “The Travel Book,” Goggins says. It’s a large-format pictorial book detailing 230 countries. Lonely Planet authors give tips on what to do, what to see, what to eat, what to listen to while your visiting, what to read before you go, etc. Each country gets a two-page spread with glorious photos ” an ideal book for the living room.
“In part, people read travel books to feel like they have the inside scoop or to get advice or have knowledge of a place, like from a friend, and books can be a source,” Goggins says. “It’s something you can trust.”
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