The 5 Must-Read Books That Fed My Travel Addiction: Olivia Giovetti
I have a quirk with my library, in which I record in the front covers of books the date I read them and where I read them (a practice, now that I think about it, I may have lifted from””who else?””Geoff Dyer). A larger extension of the stamps in my passport, it attaches some sort of sense memory so when I pick up Hemingway I remember cheap pilsners and the ridiculous heat found in late-May Prague, or when I re-read Paris Trance I’m back in Vienna teaching a bartender how to make vodka cokes in the courtyard of my hotel.
Books and travel are probably my two greatest extravagances, and I can both thank/blame several travel writers for both fueling my travel addiction and keeping me sated in between jaunts.
Curiously, the following five (ok, seven) books are what I end up recommending the most often. With only one exception, they were also all read while in the middle of travel, which maybe has heightened their effects (like washing down that antihistamine with a glass of cabernet-sauvignon).
Arthur Phillips: Prague
The title is Prague(aff) but this is all about 1990 Budapest and its expats (who all wish they are in Prague, the much hotter spot to be during the fall of Communism). I’ll admit I didn’t get this book on the first try””it has a pretty dense mid-section steeped in Hungarian history””but Phillips’ ode to his former expat city shines in spite of his obsession with style. There are the usual suspects: the English teacher, the businessman taking advantage of the system, the US government aide, the artist, the Canadian, and the one who just wound up in the right place at the right time. Some of Phillips’ sentences are toe-curling good; including the last one which remains one of my top picks for best final sentence in contemporary literature. But I’m not giving it away.
Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises
Another expat book! Hemingway is the granddaddy of wanderlust and his direct style trumps any flowery guidebook to Spain (or Paris, for that matter). More so than his contemporaries, Hemingway also captured and distilled to perfection the zeitgeist that was the Lost Generation in Paris. At one point, the narrator (a thinly-disguised version of Ernest himself) is told: “You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.”
Thank heavens the real Ernest did his fair share of writing (while hanging around in cafes that are still open in Paris).
Ayun Halliday: No Touch Monkey!
I ran out of St. Mark’s Bookstore with a copy of No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late(aff) and began reading it on the subway ride back home, much to my boyfriend’s chagrin (I won the fight over who would read it first). The divine Ms. Halliday captures everything from Munich on a shoestring to Vietnam on drugs to the Sahara on a camel (and all the places in between). I started to envy her around the time she used a night train between Germany and Salzburg to sleep, I really envied her when she was doing guerilla theatre in Romania, and I downright hated her when she had to explain tampons to soldiers in Kashmir (“They’re for ladies”¦bleeding ladies.”).
Robert Spaethling, Editor: Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life
Naturally, Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life: Selected Letters(aff) came out in paperback three months after I schlepped the hardcover through England, France, and Italy. It was well worth the loss of space in my bag, however (and made for a great end table in hostels). Reading this collection of letters is like trying to have one chocolate and put the box away, particularly during his early years when his life was nothing but travel. There are also enough jokes on bedroom behavior, flatulence, and sex to make you forget these letters were written in the latter part of the 18th Century. Load your iPod with Cosi Fan Tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro and kick back with this on a long train ride.
The Geoff Dyer Omnibus: Out of Sheer Rage, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, Paris Trance
While it’s unfair for me to lump three books into one selection, it would also be unfair for me to take up a list of five books with three by the same author. The first Dyer book I read was Out of Sheer Rage(aff) while on a plane to Germany and France; I finished it sitting in the Sarah Bernhardt Café on the Right Bank of Paris. It’s the very city in which Dyer begins this book, which traces Dyer’s inability to write a study on DH Lawrence by traveling to the places Lawrence himself once occupied: Italy, Sicily, England, Mexico. I immediately picked up Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It(aff) from Shakespeare & Co. on the Left Bank and read it on the plane ride back.
It fueled more wanderlust as Dyer goes from New Orleans to Southeast Asia to Paris to Miami to Rome to Amsterdam to Northern Africa to Detroit and finally to Burning Man. There’s connective tissue between all of these seemingly non-related stories (hopefully Teva sent Geoff a complimentary pair of sandals for every time he mentioned them and his love affair thereof). Some moments, like his nervous breakdown in Detroit and one line in the essay “Hotel Oblivion,” in which he writes: “I was happy to be here in this chair-intensive café in the autumn of my drug-taking years, with my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, Dazed, who a few weeks later would succumb to one of her periodic bouts of severe depression,” anchor the otherwise lad-lit tone of his writing and make it all the more resonant.
Finally, since I had already begun the habit, I continued with reading Paris Trance(aff) on the train between Vienna and Prague. While some may discount expats from the category of “traveler”, I think they’re the ultimate traveler (just very poor tourists), and this novel in the spirit of Tender is the Night never stops telling the travels of its four main characters. Like Prague and The Sun Also Rises, there are many parallels to Dyer’s own life as an expat in Paris, something the author will be the first to admit. “It’s about an inch from life,” he says, “but all the art is in that inch.”