Previously reviewed books and articles focusing on American travel:
A Walk in The Woods – Bill Bryson – Bryson is an Iowa native who spent 20 years living in England. In this book, which brought his sarcastic style to the Best-Seller’s List, Bryson returns to his roots on America’s Appalachian Trail. With little fear, physical training or equipment, he starts off on 1,2000 miles of hiking. Joined by Katz – his somewhat surly and oft-lazy, former-alcohol-addicted friend – the two document their steps from Georgia to Pennslyvania. To read Bryson is to hear him tell you a tall-tale in person, as if he’s entertaining at a family reunion: witty, sharp and knowing you’ll laugh at the next bits. Though the historical and scientific information laced through the story can be a bit academic, tough it out. You’ll finish smarter. And in the end, after the boys trip into a hundred bad-luck situations, A Walk reminds you that the journey is always more important than the destination.
The Devil’s Highway – Luis Alberto Urrea- The U.S-Mexican border issue is like Nogales, Arizona: symbolized by misconstrued stereotypes and preconceived ideas of North vs. South. It is an issue and a paradigm that Urrea subtly questions in his Pulitzer-nominated true story, The Devil’s Highway. Following the footsteps of 26 men who were led across the border for illegal work in 2001, Urrea draws together a background of research from Arizona residents, border patrolmen and Oaxaca peasants. Readers meet both the tired, desperate men who died hoping to cross the Sonora Desert, and the weary, determined men who discovered their bodies. “You can imagine the spirit of the empty place. The places named for the Devil himself,” describes Urrea. The story of these men immediately altered the media voice on immigration reform; so too does Urrea’s tale replace statistics and cold numbers with the human faces of the current US border policy. The Devil’s Highway will provide both Americans and foreign visitors with a better, more comprehensive understanding of that mapped boundary than any visit to a border town could do.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – R. M. Pirsig – Heavy. That’s the initial word that bounced through my brain as I flipped the last page of this hailed American classic. What Pirsig’s written is a spiritual discourse, barely hidden behind the fumes of a motorcycle. While exploring the country with his son, he ponders the disenchantment of modern society and the eventual mental movements that could lead to its contended readjustment. It’s the sort of thing you must re-read a few times before concepts sink in, dog-earring pages for reference and continually checking the internet for further research. Zen and the Art drags you into some deep mental destinations, and hopes you’ll learn to find your own way out…
Free Air – Sinclair Lewis, 1919
The Boltwoods are aiming for Seattle. Claire, in a cheerful effort to alleviate her father’s stress-induced illness, suggests a drive from the East Coast to the West. Naturally – as this is a classic romantic road trip story – these socialites will be hampered by dastardly villains, environmental hazards, potholes and poor coffee. The hero, Milt Daggett, will appear in a rainstorm and rescue them from a scheming farmer. Known for a frank yet creative style, Sinclair captures small-town USA in the wittiest of words. Just as travel removes the blinders from our eyes, so too does Clarie’s vision expand beyond her posh, pearly ways. Will she find happiness in a marriage with Milt, or is love on the highway merely a product of one particular moment? Can any of us ever got back to being who we were after we arrive?
Cuban Revelations – Marc Frank, 2013
U.S.-born Marc Frank spent nearly 25 years living in Cuba and working as a foreign news correspondent. From the fall of the Soviet Union (and its subsequent influence in Cuba), through the proceeding decades of governmental transition between Fidel and his brother Raul, Frank recounts the political and economic developments that have reshaped this island nation. He gives special attention to U.S.-Cuban relations, candidly recording a quarter century of trial and error. The book is a blend of travel narrative and journalistic commentary. Even when the reading gets stuck in technical references, Frank’s honest version encourages you to see things through ’til the end – much the same feeling he subtly encourages you to keep toward Cuba.