Previously reviewed books and articles focusing on travel + a bit of everything:
Collapse – Jared Diamond – Best known for his Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, Diamond once again amasses a library of cross-subject information to confront the question of why societies chose to fail, or succeed. It’s both a geographical travel book, (examining case studies from Papau New Guinea to Montana), and a historical travel book, (considering ancient cultures in Mexico, Cambodia and Easter Island). Be warned, it’s fairly academic. However, five minutes of current news should convince you of the plot’s importance. It’s practically a university course in 700+ pages.
No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late – Ayun Halliday – Starting out as a fresh graduate Euro-Railing across Europe, Halliday is the typical first-time backpacker. Nervous, assured, confused, elated. As she travels through countries – and several significant others – Halliday finds herself in assorted mishaps and misadventures. At the beginning of the book, she is easy to relate to, bringing to mind my own first trips overseas. From a show-down with monkeys in India, to a dramatic performance festival in Romania, Halliday retains her youthful candor and humor throughout. However, her rambling style wears by the end of the book. Halliday does not appear to learn from her own lessons, but remains that typical, American backpacker even in her later travels with her first child.
The Road of Dreams: A Two-Year Bicycling And Hiking Adventure Around the World – Bruce B. Junek – In Spearfish, South Dakota, Junek will be forever famous to locals as “That crazy hippie who sold everything and quit his job so he could catch foreign diseases in Asia.” Junek’s travels with his wife, Tess Thacker, are incredible because they started twenty years ago: before Kuta Beach, Bali became a second Australia. Before long-term travel caught on as an acceptable lifestyle for a Midwest American. Though no Theroux, his simple style and straightforward observations still manage to convey the deeper poetry and rhythm of international travel. The two originally plan their route towards the Himalayas; but, like most practiced travelers, find themselves ever-delaying and diverting their itinerary as the months stretch on. They are energetic and optimistic, often finding friends and personal invitations that appear idyllic to today’s wary backpacker. Rediscovering these regional legends some 20 years later, I am again inspired by the passion it takes for anyone to leave the familiarity of home for a new exploration. In the end, it does matter where we start our sojourn, small-town America or big-city Europe; there is an achievement in our decision to Go, and this is what Junek captures along his own Road of Dreams.
Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert – Topping Eat, Pray, Love must have been the ultimate writing block. So Gilbert is quick to point out in this sequel (of sorts) that Committed isn’t meant to be another resounding travel narrative. Rather, it’s a self-professed love story that follows Gilbert and her partner, Felipe (a Brazilian romance from the final chapters of Eat, Pray, Love) as they explore Southeast Asia, and their own conceptions of wedded life. When Felipe is refused entry to the United States, the couple is given one last visa choice: to say “I do” and enter into a legally-binding social sacrament, or find a new place to call home. Committed is less a story about physical travel, than a tale of the emotional and mental paths we travel towards love. With a bit of Gilbert’s easy wit and personal asides thrown in, for humorous relief. It’s not a book that I’d expect to find in the hands of many males, but I do think most women will find it reflective of their own musings on the history, cultural practices and current societal expectations on matrimony.