For the most part, the reading list for 2007 was made up of books about food, about wine, about travel, or about food, wine and travel. Although I didn't leave the beachfront house for an initial period of seven days, I was not quite the reading maniac this year. Part of my vacation, with PowerBook as carry-on luggage, was spent finishing my own upcoming book, Identity Crisis! Somehow I ended up coming home with several books that had not even been cracked open.
Just prior to the trip, my friend Mary suggested that I read A Thousand Days in Venice, by Marlena De Blasi. Venice is one of my favorite places in the world. We plan on visiting the city again this fall. The author's writing took me there - I could smell the food, flowers and stinky canal water; I had been to many of the locations mentioned, and I'd walked the streets the author traveled. In her second book De Blasi and her husband move to a small village in Tuscany. A Thousand Days in Tuscany transports the reader there. As I usually stay in similar villages in Umbria, near the border of Tuscany, I could relate to many of the events and experiences described in the book - and look forward to being there again this year.
Our friend Carol (who has been our housecleaning person for over 12 years) recommended that I read Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert, even though she considered it a bit of a "chick book." She thought I would find the writing about food, travel, culture and spirituality interesting. It was a great book about the author's stays in each of the geographic locations. The reader can almost gain the 30+ pounds the writer put on while eating her way through Italy by reading of her experiences. Still, I'm not sure I can forgive GIlbert for not personally liking Venice. Having only been to Bombay (now Mumbai) in India, I found the writer's search for spirituality on a remote ashram a great contrast to my own experiences. I've always wanted to visit Bali and surrounding islands. Gilbert provided an excellent introduction to the culture of the island. Although I did occasionally want to yell "Snap out of it!" at the author, for being whiny about her life, I did enjoy the book and her search for solutions to the personal issues she was facing.
Two years ago, while in St. Croix, I read J. Maarten Troost's hilarious book The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, about living on Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati, for two years. This year I packed, and thoroughly enjoyed, his follow-up book, Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu. In this segment of his life, Troost and his wife, Sylvia, move from Washington, D.C., to Vanuatu, a nation made up of 83 islands in the South Pacific. "Getting stoned" refers to the altered state and pleasure he gets from drinking kava with the locals (I've had it before and the "high" is a bit bizarre.). The adventures, and misadventures, of the couple make a great read.
I interrupted the travel and food literary itinerary long enough to finally read Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 Exercises to Wake Up Your Brain, by Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield. Yes, I actually took a graphic design book on vacation with me. A few years ago, in San Diego, Wendy interviewed me for the book at the HOW Design Conference. I was honored to be included in the book as one of a dozen industry professional profiles surrounded by great creative exercises. It was great to finally have the opportunity to read the book without the static of my normal work life. Every designer should get themselves a copy.
Many years ago I read a very rough draft of my friend Don Horn's book, Crumbs of Love: And That's All You're Ever Going To Get. He gave me a copy of the published book just after the first of the year. It's an amazing story of his early life, growing up in an incredibly dysfunctional family. The travel in the book is in the form of long-distance road trips, the food is far from gourmet and the accommodations are certainly not luxurious. I'm so proud of him for getting the book completed and out there for others to read. My partner Ed, and out travel companions Lisa and Bev, were all stunned and fascinated by the book.
I've always loved great writing and the New York Times restaurant reviews of critic Ruth Reichl were always a feast of words. Her book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, was the most enjoyable I read on my vacation this year. In addition to be an excellent writer, Reichl is a fantastic storyteller. I'm looking forward to a visit to Powell's to pick up her other books.
At a movie in January I saw the previews for a film called The Namesake and it caused me to seek out the book on which the film is based. Jhumpa Lahiri, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Interpreter of Maladies, is the author of the novel The Namesake. It's an incredible look into the cultural conflicts within one family, with one root of the family tree in India and another in the United States. As in many of the books I read while in the Caribbean, food and travel play a large role in the story. Lahiri's writing is so fine, I'm no longer sure I want to see the movie. I think any film adaptation may ruin the experience I had reading the book.
Shortly before leaving for our trip, Ed and I had a wonderful evening with our friends Bob and Norma. The conversation usually turns to books when we get together as Bob is an accomplished writer in his own right, having published his holiday story collection Mardi Gras at the Monastery And Other Stories, and the historical non-fiction books Fire Mission!: The Siege at Mortain and Enemy North, South, East, West. When Norma asked what I was currently reading, I explained that I was in the middle of the excellent Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman. She replied that I simply must read what she was currently enjoying - Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Donald and Petie Kladstrup. I took the book on the trip and it is an amazing history lesson on war, wine and French life.
Another book I read while in the Caribbean two years ago was Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs. In fact, the film was one of six or seven movies we watched while in St. Croix this year. The oddest, and funniest, book I read on this trip was Burroughs' novel Sellevision. Take somewhat sick and twisted characters like those in Scissors and put them all together working at a cable shopping network and just about anything can happen. Sellevision would make a fun film.
Now I am reading the book I began prior to our 13+ hours on planes coming back to Portland. Barack Obama is the most fascinating politician today and his book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, details his thoughts on improving our country. If the election were held today, I'm not sure Obama would get my vote. However, I am enjoying learning more about him and I look forward to what will be a very interesting presidential campaign over the next year.
As I mentioned, several books didn't even get opened during our travels. I have not yet read Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, The Noodle Maker by Ma Jian, and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford, My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals never even made it off my nightstand and into my luggage.
Oh well, there will be other vacations...
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