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Check it out: What's hot at the library

June 14, 2007

Summer, the traditional time for vacations, is here, and whether you're a globe trotter or an armchair traveler, here are a few recent travel books of interest.

Still undecided on where to take that next big trip? Fly Solo: The 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone by Teresa Rodriguez Williamson (Perigee Book, 2007) starts off with a survey to help readers discover what they're looking for in a vacation. After that, it's on to descriptions of vacation spots around the world (including a few in the United States), with a lot of information provided in a "places rated" format under such topics as must-see attractions, dining, entertainment, as well as practical tips on safety, weather, and transportation. There are some good general tips and insider advice on traveling alone safely (adventure isn't for everyone) and staying within a budget, but the great attraction of Williamson's list is that she really has found the best destinations for solo women travelers and does a great job of describing what makes them so.

You might want to read The Ice Cave: A Woman's Adventures From the Mojave to the Antarctic by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), if you're considering an "adventure vacation" of your own. Without romanticizing the idea of the lone traveler, Bledsoe conveys "the relationship between fear and grace" that she has found in her travels. Ranging from sailing in the Caribbean to hiking in the Mojave Desert to mountain climbing and stays in Antarctica, her experiences are not the stuff of casual travels. Bledsoe actively sought to engage the wilderness she found herself in, and in so doing learned about the human response to climate extremes, rough terrain, and wild animals: it is in yielding to nature, rather than in trying to tame it that we discover the most about it and ourselves.

Travel isn't just for vacations-sometimes it's part of a life-changing process, as Elizabeth Gilbert describes in Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Viking, 2006). Gilbert traveled as part of an effort to recover from an unhappy marriage and the draining effects of a divorce that left her depressed and confused. She began her travels with a stay in Italy, where she lifted her spirits through food, wine, and new friends. After a brief return to the United States, she headed off to an Ashram near Mumbai, India, where she studied yoga and meditation intensively, which led her to both physical and spiritual insights. The last stop on her year of traveling was Bali, Indonesia, where she found "balance" in helping others and finding a new love. Gilbert's travels, even if they're beyond the means of most of us, show that there can be something more to vacations than a suitcase full of souvenirs.

Combine food and travel, and you've got Anthony Bourdain's Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps and Bones (Bloomsbury/Holtzbrinck, 2006). Bourdain, chef and host of television's "No Reservations" cooking show, offers a wide-ranging collection of anecdotes of his culinary adventures around the world. Writing in an irreverent and unsparing but not too cynical style, Bourdain takes on everything from greasy spoon diners to over-hyped celebrity chefs, and from eating at a subsistence level to buying trendy overpriced sushi. This isn't the place to look for a collection of international recipes or a list of five-star restaurants not to miss while traveling. Instead, Bourdain has shown a few of the ways that one of the most universal of human experiences-finding, preparing, and eating food-is practiced around the world. That he does it in a refreshingly candid, readable style is what makes this book so enjoyable.

If you want to see the country, but can't afford to travel as much as you'd like, you could try Pete Jordan's approach, which he chronicled in Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States (Harper Perennial, 2007). Jordan worked his way through one state after another washing dishes. It helps to have a laid back, go-where-chance-takes-you sort of attitude, and no great interest in financial gain, and if you really like washing dishes. Jordan began his travels in the late '80s, picking dishwashing because the jobs were easy to find. Long before he had visited every state, Jordan became something of a celebrity, chronicling his travels through a newsletter and on segments of National Public Radio's "This American Life." Never mind that the jobs themselves tend to blur together after a while, it's his descriptions of the places his quest took him to that enliven the book, where we get to see the everyday side of life, not the tourist hot spots.

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