....I knew that it would take a doctoral dissertation to understand fully everything that had been going on around me. Seth Kugel NYTThat very feeling has left me wondering what travel books I should read and when I should do the research...before I leave for a journey or when I return home. I have found that I am very apt to believe what I read in travel guides so I will skip over things because the writer told me to stay away. Regret can be a result of that choice. But, if I don't read the books, there may be things that are missed simply because I didn't know what was around the next corner and stopped short. There is no right or wrong answer. I find myself doing a little of both.
When my husband and I were in Spain several years ago I saw the Alhambra in Granada for the very first time. The images of the Court of the Lions still are clear in my mind. I read Rick Steves' Spain as we followed the tour that day. But it wasn't until I arrived home and read Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra that I began to understand who might have lived there and what I had seen. The very old book was written in the early 1832 after Irving had lived in the Moorish palace for a period of time.
When we arrived home I savored the travel experience by reading several other books. One called Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain was written by a former rock musician from England turned expat. He decided to relocate his family to the Spanish countryside far from civilization. It was hilarious and yet so beautifully honest. I remember thinking about how grumpy the Spaniards were when we were there...Was it my fault? I wondered. I was reassured after reading the book.
But I will admit that reading a travel book before the imagined journey is good too. I like to read books about places I would love to visit but may never get to. I read Francis Mayes books about Italy for that reason. William Least Heat Moon also wrote several books about travel in the United States that I loved even though I may never take his journeys. Books like South: The story of Shackleton's 1914-1917 expedition (to Anartica) take me to places that are inaccessible to the rest of the world.
I was reading in article The Browser this morning. They had an interview with a travel writer named Paul Theroux. He was talking about his favorite travel books and Christ Stopped At Eboli - The Story Of A Year caught my interest. I added it to my Amazon Kindle to be read sometime in the future. Theroux said:
I chose this book because not many people know it – it’s hardly on every bookshelf. Carlo Levi was an Italian Jew from Florence, banished in the 1930s by the Mussolini government for criticising the war in Ethiopia. He is sent to the ends of the earth, and it happens that the ends of the earth in Italy is southern Italy – a hermetic hilltown village called Aliano which at the time was the edge of civilisation. It’s not Eboli – the point is that Christ stopped at Eboli, and Eboli is some distance away. He never got as far as Aliano. see moreI looked inside the book on Amazon and I was hooked after the first two paragraphs.
So, when do you read travel books or do you read them at all? I am just wondering.