If you’re not fortunate enough to get away for a vacation this year, what better activity than to curl up with a travel book and listen to the March winds howl, (like a lion the same way they came in). Last year I wandered into the travel section at bookoutlet.com and never left. There are so many wonderful travel books available, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few, but here are some of my personal favorites. (Warning: travel memoirs can be equal parts enjoyable and annoying. There can be a fine line between reading about someone’s wonderful experiences in a sunnier place, especially when you are still in the dull dreary dregs of winter, and resenting the hell out them. But remember there can be comfort in staying home too…see The Golden Age of Travel post).
Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, was published in 1923, and could be called the first travel memoir of it’s kind. Set in Italy, I profiled it in a blog last year – see link. How could a book with a captivating opening sentence like this, not be good.
“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine. Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.”
The King and Queen
A Year in Provence (1989) by Peter Mayle was the first travel memoir I read, and I found it LOL funny. He went on to write a whole series of memoirs (read) and a few novels (not read), about Provence. He made Provence so famous that at one time he moved to Long Island to get away from all the publicity. He died last year, shortly after his last Provence book was published, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence – Reflections on Then and Now, (read) which is a summary of his life there.
If Peter Mayle is the King, then Frances Mayes, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame, is the Queen, and she made Tuscany a very popular place to visit. It’s been 25 years since her bestselling book, and she has written wrote four or five more travel books, (read) and has a new one coming out this year – See You in the Piazza – New Places to Discover in Italy. (on order) She also wrote a novel, Women in Sunlight, last year, which I found so unreadable that I can not recommend it. I’m still not sure how a novel about four women who travel to Italy can miss, but it did. Travel memoirs are definitely her forte.
My Personal Favorite
Susan Branch is my personal favorite of all the travel writers. For those who think of her as just The Heart of the Home cookbook author, did you know that after she lost her publishing contract with Little and Brown in 2009, she started self-publishing and now has a trilogy of marvelous illustrated journals, with a fourth on the way next year about England, Ireland and Wales. Her first, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, is about her move from CA to Martha’s Vineyard in the 80’s after a divorce, which I enjoyed as that is a part of the world I would love to visit. (Her second is about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and is not really a travel book, but more a memoir of her youth).
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Her third, A Fine Romance, is about her trip to England and is full of photos and watercolor illustrations, of such sites as Beatrix Potter’s farm in the Lake District and the Jane Austen House in Chawton.
I find her monthly newsletters inspiring, and you can check out her books and order them from her website. I wish she would venture into France and Italy.
All About Paris
One of my favorite books about Paris, is Janice McLeod’s, A Paris Year, which I profiled last year in a blog titled, April in Paris – Part Two. A watercolor artist, her journal is illustrated with her own artwork, and is a quirky and whimsical look at her day to day life in Paris.
Marlena de Blasi has written three memoirs about Italy – A Thousand Days in Venice, A Thousand Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo – At Home in Umbria, which was my favorite of the three. Her books are well-written and often poetic, but sometimes irritating with respect to her ex-pat mentality and whining about their failure to fit into a foreign culture. So if you want to read about someone who makes an impulsive decision to buy a run down palazzo and then complains about how long it takes to renovate it, then this book is for you. So much of appreciating a travel memoir is based on finding the essayist appealing, still it’s an interesting if illogical journey.
My Current Read
Elizabeth Bard wrote Lunch in Paris – A Love Story with Recipes, about her move to Paris and subsequent marriage to a Parisian, which was good, even if I wasn’t much interested in the cooking part, (there are recipes at the end of each chapter). But I am really liking her second book, Picnic in Provence – a Memoir with Recipes, about their move to a small village in Provence, with their young son. The writing is honest and real and so well done, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that she has a wee bit of a privileged princess attitude.
My Latest Discovery
My latest discovery is Vivian Swift, another watercolor artist, found while browsing the bookoutlet website. (I feel like I’m regressing to my childhood with all these picture books!) Le Road Trip – A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France – is a self-illustrated memoir of her fun and whimsical jaunt through France on her honeymoon.
Her latest book (2015) entitled, When Wanderers Cease to Roam – A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put details the pleasures of finding a place to call home (Long Island Sound) after 23 years of wandering – because sometimes there’s nothing nicer than staying home and reading about travel!
As you can see, my tastes run to England, France and Italy. But there’s a whole wide world out there. What is your favorite travel book?