Travels With …

Books can vicariously take you many places, but the Smithsonian has a list of  books to inspire real travel – The Top Ten Most Influential Travel Books.   From Homer’s Odyssey to Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, the list also includes Peter Mayle (Provence).

One of my favorite travel writers is Paul Theroux; I discovered him as I was flying across the ocean to a new life in Hawaii; his fictional Hotel Honolulu proved to be an irreverent perspective that was easy to adopt.  Since then, I’ve discovered his nonfiction – The Tao of Travel.

More recently I’ve turned to Rick Steves as my nonfiction source for all travel to Europe, but for a humorous outlook on travel, I always return to Calvin Trillin’s Travels with Alice.9780374526009_p0_v1_s260x420

“So far, no scholar of Franco-American relations has attempted to refute the theory I once offered that some of the problems American visitors have with the French can be traced to the Hollywood movies of Maurice Chevalier.  According to the theory, meeting a surly bureaucrat or a rude taxi driver is bound to be particularly disappointing if you’ve arrived with the expectation that every Frenchman you encounter will be a charming, debonair old gent who at any moment might start singing, ‘Sank Evan for leetle gerls.’”

Do you have a favorite travel book?

Summer Reads

Seasons in Hawaii are hard to identify and limited to two: winter and summer.  It takes a while for seventy degrees to feel cold – only the locals are wearing sweatshirts in January –  but summer is coming, and the Honolulu Weekly is recommending a list of summer books to complement the annual Hawaii Book and Music Festival this weekend.

The Festival offered a Book Swap and hosted a variety of authors, including Sarah Vowell for her account of Western intervention in the Hawaiian monarchy, Unfamiliar Fishes; Maya Soetoro-Ng (Obama’s sister) for her children’s book Ladder to the Moon; and a svelte looking Roseanne Barr for her latest memoir Roseannarchy.


Maya Soetoro-Ng

Standing room only for Sarah Vowell, and Maya Soetoro-Ng, with Honolulu policemen nearby, calmly greeted each fan as she signed copies of her book.

The Honolulu Weekly highlighted local authors:

  • The Little Greenies by Petronella Evers (children’s picture book).  Go to Potpourri to meet the author.
  • The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux (travel)
  • One Man’s Paradise by Douglas Corleone (crime mystery)
  • Waves of Resistance by Isaiah Walker  (surfing)

Lots of reading recommendations – for any weather zone…

Theroux on Why We Travel

Paul Theroux is not my favorite person, but I like his books. Theroux lives on the North Shore of Oahu, when he’s not traveling the world, and thrives as the brash, irreverent, articulate personality that gives his books a rebellious yet true quality.

On the long plane ride to relocate to Hawaii from the East Coast ten years ago, I read Hotel Honolulu – a great preview to the seedier side of Waikiki – with characters I later saw and avoided when I rode TheBus. In 2009, to celebrate Hawaii’s 50th anniversary of statehood, he wrote an essay for the New York Times on Hawaii’s idiosyncracies of island culture (Happily a State, Forever an Island) that I had also learned by then to tolerate.

Theroux often writes travel essays, so his recent article in the New York Times travel section – Why We Travel – seemed to be from an appropriate source.  His advice?  Don’t stay home; don’t be afraid to vacation in tyrannical countries or places in conflict. Go for the experiences – “shocking though they may seem at the time…the experience of being a bystander to sudden political or social change can be alarming {but also} an enrichment…one of the life-altering trophies of the road.

He draws the line: “I wouldn’t go to present-day Somalia or Afghanistan…nor Pakistan,” but “only the other day the Libyan tourist board was encouraging visitors with promises of Roman ruins,” and not all of Japan is in disaster. My guess is that he wrote the article before the no-fly zone air strikes and the radioactive meltdowns – but maybe not.

Theroux goes for the adventure, for the location that is not only “out of fashion” but also places the traveler may “dare to try.”  The article seems to be a preview for his new book, The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road, due out in May.

I look forward to vicariously traveling with him to all those dangerous yet “enlightening” places through reading, but I’m not sure I’m ready to actually go yet.