When you’re stuck at home and haven’t traveled in a while (three months to be exact), reading (even more than usual) is a good remedy. And these five books are currently on my bedside table–no surprise that most of them are travel-related. Depending on my mood for the evening or whose voice I miss more, I pick one of them for bedtime reading. I love most of them. One I’m still learning to love.
Lonely Planet’s Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Great Mekong
Yes, I read Lonely Planet guide books before I go to sleep. Months before we even booked our tickets and got our visas for our Japan trip, P had already bought the LP Japan book and I would read it while dreaming of eventually making our way there. And hooray we did!
Backpacking through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand (or at least two out of the four countries, depending on P’s number of leaves) is now our next travel goal. While I doubt we’ll be going there any time soon, simply reading about their local etiquette, food staples, and activities is enough to keep me excited.
Highlight it! You can learn to cook Cambodian cuisine via affordable cooking classes that range from US$10 to US$30. That’s pretty affordable. The one in Le Tigre de Papier sounds the most interesting, since they donate 75% of the profits to worthy causes.
Tales from Nowhere
My no-brainer travel book of choice. Since I like to plan and make itineraries whenever I travel (an understatement if ever there was one), this book is a constant reminder that I don’t have to plan everything or follow the said plan all the time. That when things don’t go according to the itinerary, the trip will be any less memorable. On the contrary, oftentimes from my own experience and other travelers before us, you get something even better—or at least you get an interesting story out of it.
The travel tales from Danny Wallace, Anthony Sattin, Rose George, Simon Winchester and other fantastic writers in this LP anthology prove this. They ended up in Nowhere, lived to tell the tale and brought us along for the ride. I owe them a debt of gratitude for sharing their stories about the island called Pig, about the worst country in the world (at least according to Winchester), what it’s like to ride a cargo ship to cross the Atlantic, and go to (probably the most famous Nowhere) Timbuktu and the desert beyond it.
Consider The Lobster And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
I love David Foster Wallace. But first off I have to mention that I didn’t start reading him because of some heightened literary taste. I found him because when I was obsessing over John Krasinski (The Office), I found out that ‘Jim’ was then writing and directing Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, based on the book by David Foster Wallace. The title piqued my curiosity so I started searching online about Mr. Wallace and his books and God-bless Krasinski’s taste in literature, I found one of my favorite writers.
I have to admit though that I’m a new fan and I haven’t read any of his fiction. His non-fiction though, such as this book, is just razor-sharp smart and perceptive down to the smallest details. In this collection of essays, he brings the readers to the Annual AVN (Adult Video News, which he describes “is sort of the Variety for the US porn industry”) Awards, to the trail of one of the presidential candidates in 1999 (he followed McCain), and to the Maine Lobster Festival, among other events and places I know I would likely not be able to find myself in.
But what makes each encounter with him mind-expanding is the way he attacks a story before him. Who would have thought that a Gourmet assignment to cover a lobster festival would eventually delve into the said crustacean’s nervous system and its ability to feel pain? Without getting all preachy about it. The late Mr. David Foster Wallace just seemed constantly, insatiably curious and so very much aware. And they’re two of the many things I love about his works. He kept asking questions, trying to get to the bottom of things that you could almost imagine hearing his mind buzzing, and while he would pose some answers in the end, there were also often more questions for you to think about than when he started. You’ll never look at things the same way again. (Putting them into words as precisely and elegantly as David Foster Wallace though is another thing altogether.)
We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live by Joan Didion
For any self-respecting Joan Didion fan, this 1,122-page tome of her collected nonfiction is a must in your bookshelf. It’s my Didion bible of sorts. I first read part of an essay of hers when I was about to graduate from college and I was wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Was I going to work in an ad agency, pursue film production, or write? (I would go on to do the first two, though very briefly, before finally settle into writing.) What was wrong with me? The nonfiction book I was reading tackled writing and kept citing Didion and one of her essays, “On Keeping a Notebook” from her collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I remember reading her words and not feeling so alone anymore.
More than a decade later, when my dad died, my sister told me that Didion just released a new book called A Year of Magical Thinking after her husband and daughter died. I remember holding on to that book for dear life, reading every line and every word again and again, while I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that my dad was gone. I had no words. Grief was just too small for it. But she did. “Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”
Sun After Dark by Pico Iyer
I don’t know anymore where I first read a Pico Iyer travel piece. But I do know two things: I liked what I read before, but this collection of travel essays I was having a harder time appreciating. My sister had a copy of Video Night in Kathmandu when we were younger, but I never got around to reading it. (She tells me that if I should read an Iyer collection, that should be it.) Every time I try to read one of the travel essays in this collection, I never get around to finishing it. I get bored. My last attempt was outside my doctor’s office where I had to wait for an hour and a half and there was nothing else to do. Still I failed. But I will persevere and I will finish reading his essays, every single one of them. (Will update this once I do)