Noah and I are now in the third week of Bay Area Quarantine. We were supposed to be moving across the country this week to New York City. Our apartment on 40th and 2nd is silently waiting for the global pandemic to pass. We’ve spent days dreaming of our custom furniture builds, our nights wandering through the midtown lights, our days finding the perfect cup of coffee… And waiting… Waiting to see what the world will be like when we are all awakened from this nightmare.
In the meantime, I keep working on finding ways to explore the world virtually, in my imagination, and through entertainment and art.
This week, let’s find a great book!
Travel memoirs are by far my favorite genre. Sometimes they’re romantic and whimsical, sometimes they’re political and poignant, but they always offer a reminder that we often have to step out of our routine to find the best parts of life.
Here are some of my favorites, ranked from most warm and fuzzy to most political and poignant – what are yours?
“In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.”
‘”In many ways, I was an independent woman,’ writes Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Alice Steinbach. ‘For years I’d made my own choices, paid my own bills, shoveled my own snow.’ But somehow she had become dependent in quite another way. ‘I had fallen into the habit of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me.’ But who was she away from the people and things that defined her? In this exquisite book, Steinbach searches for the answer to this question in some of the most beautiful and exciting places in the world: Paris, where she finds a soul mate; Oxford, where she takes a course on the English village; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards from Steinbach’s journeys, this revealing and witty book transports you into a fascinating inner and outer journey, an unforgettable voyage of discovery.”
“Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign—Desforges Pianos—he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is at once a beguiling portrait of a Paris not found on any map and a tender account of the awakening of a lost childhood passion.”
“In this wise and engrossing dual memoir, Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann chronicle their travels together through Greece, Turkey, and France at a time when each was on a quest to redefine herself and rediscover one another.
Sue, newly aware of aging and caught in a creative vacuum, struggles to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel and to navigate the threshold into her fifties. Ann, heartbroken and lost, grapples with the classic question of what to do with her life. In voices candid and lyrical, this modern-day Demeter and Persephone explore a rich array of inspiring figures and sacred sites in Athens, Eleusis, Paris, Ephesus, Rocamadour, and places in between. They also give voice to a moving transformation of that most protean of human connections: the bond of mothers and daughters.”
“From the star of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain’s New York Times-bestselling chronicle of travelling the world in search the globe’s greatest cuilnary adventures
The only thing ‘gonzo gastronome’ and internationally bestselling author Anthony Bourdain loves as much as cooking is traveling. Inspired by the question, ‘What would be the perfect meal?,’ Tony sets out on a quest for his culinary holy grail, and in the process turns the notion of ‘perfection’ inside out. From California to Cambodia, A Cooks’ Tour chronicles the unpredictable adventures of America’s boldest and bravest chef.
Fans of Bourdain will find much to love in revisiting this classic culinary and travel memoir.”
“In September 1960, John Steinbeck embarked on a journey across America. He felt that he might have lost touch with the country, with its speech, the smell of its grass and trees, its color and quality of light, the pulse of its people. To reassure himself, he set out on a voyage of rediscovery of the American identity, accompanied by a distinguished French poodle named Charley; and riding in a three-quarter-ton pickup truck named Rocinante.
His course took him through almost forty states: northward from Long Island to Maine; through the Midwest to Chicago; onward by way of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana (with which he fell in love), and Idaho to Seattle, south to San Francisco and his birthplace, Salinas; eastward through the Mojave, New Mexico, Arizona, to the vast hospitality of Texas, to New Orleans and a shocking drama of desegregation; finally, on the last leg, through Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to New York.
Travels with Charley in Search of America is an intimate look at one of America’s most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. Written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—Travels with Charley is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade.”
“When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries. What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made?
Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness. From childcare, education, food and interior design (not to mention ‘hygge’) to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.”
“A journalist from Finland, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, asks Americans to draw on elements of the Nordic way of life to nurture a fairer, happier, more secure, and less stressful society for themselves and their children.
Moving to the United States from Finland in 2008, Anu Partanen quickly went from confident, successful professional to wary, self-doubting mess. She found that navigating the basics of everyday life—from buying a cell phone and filing taxes to education and childcare—was much more complicated and stressful than anything she encountered in her homeland. At first, she attributed her crippling anxiety to the difficulty of adapting to a freewheeling new culture. But as she got to know Americans better, she discovered they shared her deep apprehension. To understand why life is so different in the U.S. and Finland, Partanen began to look closely at both.
In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen compares life in the United States with life in the Nordic region, focusing on four key relationships—parents and children, men and women, employees and employers, and government and citizens. She debunks criticism that Nordic countries are socialist “nanny states,” revealing instead that it is we Americans who are far more enmeshed in unhealthy dependencies than we realize. As Partanen explains step by step, the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and independence than we do.
Partanen wants to open Americans’ eyes to how much better things can be—to show her beloved new country what it can learn from her homeland to reinvigorate and fulfill the promise of the American dream—to provide the opportunity to live a healthy, safe, economically secure, upwardly mobile life for everyone. Offering insights, advice, and solutions, The Nordic Theory of Everything makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild our society, rekindle our optimism, and restore true freedom to our relationships and lives.”
From Majhon: For an over-the-top fun read about leaving it all behind, try this fiction novel set from the TV show Younger!
“By all appearances, Kate Carmichael has the perfect life: two adorable daughters, a prewar townhouse on the Upper East Side, and a husband who runs one of the most successful publishing companies in New York.
But when Kate attends a wedding and reconnects with successful friends from graduate school, she suddenly sees her life in a different light: the career she didn’t pursue, the dreams she’s locked away, the empty veneer of her privilege.
When the wedding weekend ends, instead of heading home to her husband and family, Kate gets on a plane and flies halfway around the world. She claims it’s just going to be for a week—two max—just so she can clear her head and reconnect with her lost dreams. But the adventure doesn’t go quite as planned.
This provocative and gripping novel asks: Is a wife and mother allowed to have a midlife crisis? And, if she does, can she ever be forgiven?”
From Noah: The Gun Seller
“British actor and comedian Hugh Laurie’s first book is a spot-on spy spoof about hapless ex-soldier Thomas Lang, who is drawn unwittingly and unwillingly into the center of a dangerous James Bond–like plot of international terrorists, arms dealing, high-tech weapons, and CIA spooks.”
Or, for a deep dive into global politics and free-markets – check out The Shock Doctrine
“Based on breakthrough historical research and four years of on-the-ground reporting in disaster zones, The Shock Doctrine vividly shows how disaster capitalism – the rapid-fire corporate reengineering of societies still reeling from shock – did not begin with September 11, 2001. The book traces its origins back fifty years, to the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, which produced many of the leading neo-conservative and neo-liberal thinkers whose influence is still profound in Washington today. New, surprising connections are drawn between economic policy, “shock and awe” warfare and covert CIA-funded experiments in electroshock and sensory deprivation in the 1950s, research that helped write the torture manuals used today in Guantanamo Bay.
The Shock Doctrine follows the application of these ideas through our contemporary history, showing in riveting detail how well-known events of the recent past have been deliberate, active theatres for the shock doctrine, among them: Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, the Falklands War in 1982, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Asian Financial crisis in 1997 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.”
How are you continuing your adventures from home? Let us know!
***We are not endorsed or sponsored by any of the recommendations we have mentioned. These are simply favorites from our own experiences and research. Enjoy!***