Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea

Posted by nybookworm on June 17, 2009

3 cupsThree Cups of Tea has become incredibly famous and widely-read so I won’t bother with too much background.  It’s a book about one man’s (Greg Mortenson) efforts to build schools throughout rural Pakistan and eventually Afghanistan. Mortenson was an avid mountain climber, which is how he ended up in rural Pakistan in the first place (trying to climb K2) so the book is packed with references to climbers and the climber lifestyle. This is obviously a timely book that is well-written with a lot of powerful images of the poverty and lifestyle of Pakistan’s rural mountain people. It’s also entertaining and enlightening but it is obviously by no means an impartial look at Mortenson’s work and his Central Asia Institute (CAI). It’s basically a promotional pamphlet for CAI turned into a book and it should be read as such.

Link to the book’s website: www.threecupsoftea.com


Posted in Nonfiction, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Peter Mayle: A Year in Provence

Posted by nybookworm on April 19, 2009

topper-provence1British writer Peter Mayle’s books chronicling his relocation to and life in Provence, France have become one of the most widely read travel books around.  A Year in Provence (1991) is about Mayle’s first year living in Provence with his wife and their quest to restore an 18th century farmhouse at the base of the Luberon mountains.   I read somewhere that when it was first published, the publisher agreed to print 3,000 copies and promised to give Mayle a discount to buy them to give as Christmas gifts. The first printing sold out within a few weeks and this book as well as his subsequent chronicles of Provencal life have now sold several million copies worldwide.  No matter how many books are written on the topic and how trite the idea becomes of relocating to an idyllic southern European country with a slower paced lifestyle and fresh local food, this type of travel book will always find an audience because we’ve all bought into the myth  (or at least those of us in big cities glued to our laptops).  We use to have the American Dream- we now have the Provencal or Tuscan dream.  But I digress.  This book is good not just because it sells an idea whose time has come but because the story is told with just the right amount of that wry wit Brit writers are able to convey with facility.  Mayle manages to poke fun at French culture and stodgy traditions while good naturedly maintaining a clear veneer of admiration for his subject.  His books are immensely entertaining and even more so if you’re a fan of French food (truffles, tarts, wine and various innards make several appearances).   I have read all of his books on Provence (Toujours Provence, Encore Provence and Provence A to Z) and have enjoyed all of them mostly because Mayle is a great writer who manages to hold your attention and capture your imagination even while he tells you how much better his life is than yours.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Year-Provence-Peter-Mayle/dp/0679731148

Posted in Beach Reading, Chefs/Food, Funny, Nonfiction, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Robert D. Kaplan: Balkan Ghosts

Posted by nybookworm on April 3, 2009

kaplanI am considering filing this book under the “classics” category because it’s definitely a book from another era in more ways than one.  Balkan Ghosts is based on Kaplan’s travels through the Balkans in the 1980s and was published in 1994 only after interest in the region escalated in the early 90s.  It’s famous for its prescient predictions of ethnic strife in the region and is supposedly one of the books Bill Clinton read when deciding whether to take action in Bosnia.  If you’ve been to the Balkans you know that they are eerily beautiful- mountains covered in fog, oldstyle farms, stern peasants, beautiful gothic cities and very diverse people (thanks to the Ottoman Empire).  I think Kaplan does a great job of conveying a sense of each place he travels and of the political and historical backdrop that colors each place.  Yes, he is pretty heavy-handed with the mysticism..after all we are in the “East” and probably simplifies some of the history and the leaders of the region but I think that’s probably a necessary side effect of writing a readable travel memoire.  I liked this book very much and if you enjoy some substance with your travel books (not “Tom Friedman substance” but real history and politics) you will be as engrossed as I was.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Balkan-Ghosts-Journey-Through-History/dp/0679749810

Posted in Classics, Nonfiction, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Stephen Clarke: A Year in the Merde

Posted by nybookworm on March 29, 2009

merde_While we’re on the topic of British parodies of the Under the Tuscan Sun genre of travel writing, I should mention another good example: A Year in the Merde (2004).  The title is actually technically a parody of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and is intended to allude to the author’s less than stellar first year living in Paris.  Other than the title, the book is not actually a parody, it’s just a funny description of the narrator’s year in Paris trying to open a chain of British-style tea shops.  If you’ve been to France or are a connoisseur of French stereotypes you will find this hilarious.  This is a great break if you’ve just read a difficult or depressing book (more of those to come later) and excellent vacation reading.  The good news is, if you like this there is a sequel titled, of course, Merde Actually which is more of the same.

Amazon link to A Year in the Merde here: http://www.amazon.com/Year-Merde-Stephen-Clarke/dp/1582345910

Posted in Beach Reading, Funny, Travel | 1 Comment »

James Hamilton-Paterson: Cooking with Fernet Branca

Posted by nybookworm on March 28, 2009

0000-0287-6fernet-branca-postersCooking with Fernet Branca (2004) is a parody of the Under the Tuscan Sun genre of travel writing (escape hectic life, buy a “fixer upper” in Italian/French countryside, cook with local seasonal ingredients from farmer’s market, write a book about getting along with locals).  I’m the last person to dismiss the UTS genre because I’ve read all of its best examples but I don’t think I would have enjoyed Cooking with Fernet Branca  as much if I hadn’t.  It’s witty and hilarious  read on its own but much more so if you (like me) can’t help but wistfully hope for your very own UTS  novel one day. The local ingredient in this case is Fernet Branca, an Italian herbal liquer of the variety every European country seems to have – ie., medicinal, dozens of secret ingredients and disgusting.  The main character, a middle-aged British gentleman, Gerald Samper moves to the Italian coast to get away from it all (and of course to restore an old farmhouse using his DIY skills) only to be assaulted by the musical compositions of his aptly named Eastern European neighbor, Marta.  Hilarity and misunderstanding ensue as well as some fake recipes at the hand of the gourmand Gerry, including smoked cat stews and lychee toast.  

Amazon link here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cooking-Fernet-Branca-James-Hamilton-Paterson/dp/0571220908

If you want to try Fernet Branca: http://www.67wine.com/sku010671.html

Posted in Chefs/Food, Contemporary Fiction, Funny, Travel | Leave a Comment »