Almost as much as I like to travel, I like to read what others, particularly women, have written about their own travels. Today I will share some of my reviews of writing by women travelers.
I really enjoy The Best American Travel Writing series. Although I never like all of the pieces in those books, there is always something (usually several somethings) that I do like.
In The Best American Travel Writing 2001, edited by Paul Theroux, the piece I liked best was “The Place to Disappear” (about Bankok’s Khao San Road) by Susan Orlean. It was so good, I read it twice.
The aforementioned Susan Orlean is the editor of The Best American Travel Writing 2007. My favorite piece in that collection is “Long Day’s Journey into Dinner” by Elizabeth Gilbert. This piece is about walking the Grande Randonnee in France. Although I have practically nothing in common with Gilbert and her traveling companion (he spoke French, I’ve got nothing but English; they had money to eat sumptuous meals at expensive restaurants and sleep in charming, cushy little inns each night, while I am poor; they drank bottles of wine each day, while I am a teetotaler), Gilbert described the journey as so wonderful, so magical that I wanted to (literally) follow in her footsteps. (It was only when reading the book’s writer bios did I realize the author is the Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. I have avoided Eat, Pray, Love for years, but after reading “Long Day’s Journey into Dinner,” I’ve added the memoir to my stack of books to read.)
Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road (edited by Jennifer L. Leo), is a collection of short travel stories from the Traveler’s Tales Humor Books series. I picked it up from a free pile, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. I actually wasn’t expecting much, as I had read at least one other book in this series and wasn’t impressed. If by “funny” the publisher means “mildly amusing,” this collection is right on target. I laughed out loud exactly once while reading these stories. (Unfortunately, I cannot remember which author made me laugh.)
I actually read More Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road, Again! (edited by Julia Weiler ) before I read Sand in My Bra. I picked it up on a whim at the library, and it turned out to be not so good. Sigh.
The subtitle, Funny Women Write from the Road is a lie. Well, the from the Road part is true and the women part is too, as far as I could tell, but funny? No.
A few of the pieces were well-written, but some were embarrassingly amateurish. None of them were memorable.
I really wanted to like this collection, but I just didn’t.
I also borrowed Curves on the Highway: A Self-Help Guide for Female Automobile Travelers by Gerry Davis from the library on a whim. I read the first two chapters and skimmed the third.
This book was not written for women who have any road trip experience. This book was written for women totally new to the idea of traveling alone in a car. This book was specifically written for women who like to stay at fancy hotels and go shopping.
Some of the advice was pretty good. Davis encourages women not to broadcast the news that they are going out of town, and she point-blank tells women not to dress in a way that calls attention to themselves.
But she also gives weird advice like “Shoulder pads: a must!” and “Take starched cotton shirts.” She also says that during travels is a good time to lose weight and suggests women snack on “…a bag of crisp chopped lettuce, kept cool next to your baggie of ice.” Sounds like the worst road trip snack ever!
I guess this book might be helpful for someone, but it sure wasn’t helpful to me. Well, I did take one thing I read here to heart. Davis advises women to never let their gas gauge go below a quarter of a tank. I’ve started taking this precaution, and I stress a lot less about running out of gas.
Around the World in a Bad Mood!: Confessions of a Flight Attendant by Rene Foss was supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t.
The author had been a flight attendant for over 15 years when she wrote the book. The book is based on a musical review also written by the author. Maybe it’s better as a song and dance…Some parts did amuse me, but nothing made me laugh out loud.
This book is mostly a manual on how not to act. It’s also mostly a yawn.
I couldn’t tell what author Polly Evans was trying to do with Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman’s Hilarious Adventure into a Country and a Culture Not Her Own. Was she trying to discourage Westerners from visiting China by showing it as a dirty place, full of disease and people with questionable hygiene habits, a place with weird, bad food and a difficult-to-speak language? Was she trying to be funny by poking fun at a culture she’s not a part of? Was she only trying to tell about her own experiences? I think most of all she was trying to sell her book.
I didn’t hate this book, but it did come across as if the author thinks living in the West is better and China is a strange and dangerous place. I did like the way the author seamlessly worked Chinese history into her story.
I’ve never really longed to visit China and after reading this book, it’s even lower on my list of possible travel destinations.
In the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy Knisley tells her story of spending a month in Paris with her mother. This was the journal and sketch book of her day-to day-life as a young women in a new place. I liked that. I liked getting a glimpse of what she did in Paris, where she went, what she ate.
The attitude about money bugged me. The author/artist mentioned several times that she was worried about her finances and couldn’t afford to buy things, yet did manage to buy things. My guess is that her parents picked up the tab for the trip, but how did they afford it? She also mentioned only receiving little presents from her parents for Christmas because the trip was a big deal, which also led me to believe her folks footed the bill. However, one of the little presents she got was a brand new digital camera; not a little present at all where I come from.
Ah, class issues. They can’t be escaped, even in comic books.
The last book for today is No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late by Ayun Halliday. Ah, Ayun Halliday. I should write her a fan letter.
I enjoy her self-deprecating wit. I enjoy any author who is not afraid of showing her weaknesses, because seeing them makes me feel a little bit better about my own.
I like that this book explores the downside of budget traveling, doesn’t only show it surrounded by the halo of happy coincidences and good vibes and swell luck. A lot can go wrong when traveling, and Ayun is not afraid to share it with us if it gets her a laugh.
I also really adore the title of this book, and have taken many opportunities throughout my life to shout at random, NO TOUCH MONKEY!