In A Sunburned Country
, A Walk in the Woods
and I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
While I have only discovered Bill Bryson's works within the past year, I have whole-heartedly fallen in love with his writings. Why? Because they are the freaking funniest things I have ever read. He delights in depicting the strange and the awkward, which usually turns out to be him. This "God Dad! [teenage eyes rolling in disdain, can't believing that they are related]" theme runs throughout his books, adding *pop* and *crackle* to his extremely informative self-travel journeys.
A Walk in the Woods
is about his hike along the US Appalachian Trail; In A Sunburned Country
is about Bryson's travels across Australia; I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
is (as the title so prominently points out) about returning to the American lifestyle after twenty years of living in England. "Woods" and "Sunburned" are full-fledged books about his trips; "Stranger" is a collection of columns that he wrote for British Sunday newspaper readers, gathered up so non-British audiences could enjoy them too. It probably is my favorite of the three although it might be because it was the first one of his writings that I read. And as we all know, one never forgets their first love.
Under the Tuscan Sun
by Frances Mayes
It is strangely hard for me to write about this book because I am too close to it -- I read it whenever I feel homesick, wintersick, any kind of sick. Her words paint an enchanting picture of Cortona, Italy where she and her partner buy and restore a second house, and are slowly absorbed into the daily Italian life. Every day reveals a new discovery for Mayes, whether it be a local Etruscan artifact (the Etruscans preceded the Romans) or that every olive oil has a distinctive taste. Though her life is not always perfect, it it always painted with the most colorful descriptions. Reading Under the Tuscan Sun
makes me want to follow in her footsteps. I feel an extra connection given that I have spent several summers in Italy and she mentions my two hometowns, San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA. By FAR better than the movie but if you pick up a more-recent edition of Under the Tuscan Sun
, Mayes offers an interesting perspective on the movie-making experience. Perfecto!
Walking My Dog, Jane: From Valdez to Prudhoe Bay Along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
by Ned Rozell
The publisher describes Ned Rozell's tale by far better than I can:
"'I took my dog for a walk last spring,' says Ned Rozell 'and we didn't come home until fall.' In Walking My Dog, Jane
, readers travel along with Ned and Jane, his chocolate Labrador, as they walk 800 miles across Alaska along the trans-Alaska pipeline, beginning in the south at Valdez and ending at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. Rozell describes the extraordinary wildlife and spectacular scenery of Alaska, but perhaps the greatest wonders in this story are the people who live near the pipeline. As Rozell discovers on his 120-day journey, the frontier still exists in Alaska, but it's not the same frontier that stampeders encountered 100 years ago, or the one to which pipeline workers rushed 20 years ago. Instead, it is a spirit found in these people who live there, now, at the end of the century."
I heard Ned Rozell talk about his tale when Michael Feldman's NPR show Whad'ya Know visited Alaska (link
) and was interested enough to order it online without reading it first, which is abnormal for me. I am extremely glad that I did purchase it however and would recommend it to all. Warning: you will feel a strange urge to live on the land in Alaska after reading.
Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa
by Karin Muller
Karin Muller once wrote me an email! Of course it was in response to an email I wrote to her praising her books, but it was admittedly a thrill realizing that a famous author wrote to ME. Karin Muller is all that I want to be: strongly independent; adventurous; multi-lingual; a published writer and TV travel show host. Her book Japanland
details her attempt to fit into Japanese society despite a harsh host mother and being a bold blonde amongst the dainty and conservative. Despite her ever-growing fractuous personal relationship with her host family, Muller still manages to reveal the Japan that most can only dream of experiencing.
Muller has also written entertaining tales about South America (Along the Inca Road: A Woman's Journey into an Ancient Empire
) and Vietnam ( Hitchhiking Vietnam : A Woman's Solo Journey in an Elusive Land
) but Japanland
is a personal favorite.
Kabul Beauty School
by Deborah Rodriguez
To be fair, there are traces of link
regarding this book. I knew that before I read it. But I still wanted to and am glad that I did. Deborah Rodriguez, a "flamboyant beautician from Michigan", shares with readers her life in Afghanistan amid attempts to build a beauty salon school for local Afghan women. The ugliness of their life is, for the moment, gone while they learn color therapy in respect to hair dye and how to perm with the 'proper' tools. But of course, the ugliness is only gone for fractions of a second. Abusive husbands, both Afghan and American, terrorists as neighbors, and lack of supplies threaten the school at every turn. A well-written book. Controversal both in and out of Afghanistan -- but for such opposing reasons: religious extreminism vs humanitarian capitalism.
Soapbox Article by Cressida Hanson