Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Beaches Book Club (August-September Challenge: Travel)

I had mentioned in a previous post that a few friends and I have formed an informal book club to encourage us to finish our reading piles. We're all readers but we tend to like different genres so it was hard for us to settle on a common title; I think the only thing we agree on is manga, and even that's still subject to further de-classification! In the end, we decided to go with a travel theme because it provided us with a wide range of things to pick -- and besides, we all liked to travel (even taken trips together, both local and abroad). Any book that touched on a form of travel was accepted. We began our books in mid-August and ended in mid-September. We had a list of questions we tried to answer, which focused mostly on the travel and cultural experiences mentioned in our respective books. While I took on Colin Cheong's Tangerine, here's a rundown of the other books the rest of the group had finished reading this month:

Book: How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays
Author: Umberto Eco
Reviewed by: Magnetic Rose
Thoughts:A collection of short articles and essays -- mostly parodies, written by Eco between 1975 and 1991. Includes instructions on How to Travel with a Salmon, How to Eat in Flight, How to Go Through Customs, and How to Deal with the Taxi Driver -- all funny, none real. The book covers places like London, Edinburgh, New York, and Milan, while tackling a number of ways to travel: first class, coach, train, taxi, and lastly bicycle. Funny as hell -- for smart people.
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you? Airline food will kill you.

Book: You Shall Know Our Velocity!
Author: Dave Eggers
Reviewed by: Oz
Thoughts:Reading this book is like going on a trip with two of your crazy, funny, (and probably cute) guy friends. Will comes into a big amount of money which he feels he doesn't really deserve. He decides to travel around the world with Hand, one of his best friends. Their trip involves visiting obscure countries and giving away Will's money bit by bit to the people they meet along the way. So the time they spend in each obscure country is mostly a mad scramble to find a way to go somewhere else. And all this they've decided to do after losing their best friend Jack to a car accident. Despite the craziness of everything going on here though, there are moments of raw emotion that lend a certain authenticity to everything that's happening.
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you? I honestly can't think of any decent travel advice I've learned here except probably what NOT to do on a trip. Will and Hand are disorganized, crazy, unprepared, unhygienic, unselfconscious. Their trip is a nightmare for anybody remotely OC.

Book: The Time Cavern
Author: Todd A. Fonseca
Reviewed by: Code Jutsu
Thoughts:When ten-year-old Aaron moved from the big city to the country, he thought it was a boring sleepy town. Then he met Jake, a know-it-all farm girl who said his house was haunted. She claimed an Amish boy disappeared without a trace after hearing the wind call his name. Aaron thought she was just trying to scare him...until the night he heard his own name in the wind. It was interesting, fast-paced and kept me thinking. Being a book targetted for 10 year old boys, explaining things *I* already know was a bit of a drag for me. But hey, I need to remember I am not the target audience. Its strength though lies with it's approach with the young protagonists, they are believable kids thrust into unusual instances. This book helped me understand more of the Amish, their religion and way of life. It was done with respect, and did not become preachy. It may be for kids, but it is interesting enough for kids at heart like me.
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you?Try anything once :)

Book: The Tattooed Map
Author: Barbara Hodgson
Reviewed by: Kitchen Cow
Thoughts:Lydia and ex-boyfriend Christopher travel to North Africa for entirely different reasons. Lydia because she lives to travel while Chris travels to buy curios and art pieces for clients. After an encounter with a mysterious stranger, Lydia finds a set of flea bites on her arm. Instead of it disappearing though, she discovers that the bites start taking the shape of lines and symbols, eventually turning into a tattooed map that slowly spreads along her arm. The story offers an interesting enough premise that borders on fantasy and realism. Unfortunately, it will forever be compared to Griffin and Sabine. It makes a good attempt to follow in the landmark trilogy's footsteps but it doesn't quite get there. The author fails to introduce story elements that I find important, like Lydia's relationship with Christopher, which was described in the book flap but is never really introduced until much much much much later in the book.
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you?Don't talk to strangers if you don't want strange tattoos on your body! J/K

Book: French Lessons (Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew)
Author: Peter Mayle
Reviewed by: Otaku Champloo
Thoughts:This is a non-fiction book written somewhere before and during his stay in Provence. This particularly looks into how France has forever changed his palette. Its strength lies in his casual narration of places and faces in France and why they love their food. His descriptions are vivid enough to make you hungry and long for the little villages in France. I also consider his humbling experience a strength. As an Englishman, his culinary experience in France has brought his English arrogance down at least in terms of food. Prior to reading the book, my impression of French food is snooty bistros with either steaks or pommes frites with a splash of French sauces here and there. I thought that French food was all about fine dining with wine to drink however, reading Mayle's culinary explorations, the French were at home with rustic meals and lunches that can go on forever, like Filipinos!
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you?Don't judge a food by how it looks or where it's from. Don't be afraid of what you don't know. Eventually, what scares you can surprise you and turn out to be the best culinary treat you'll ever have.

Book: Vroom with a View (In Search of Italy's Dolce Vita on a '61 Vespa)
Author: Peter Moore
Reviewed by: Pixel and Ink
Thoughts:Peter Moore chases a boyhood dream -- to go from Milan to Rome on a Vespa. But it couldn't be just any old Vespa. Peter wanted a bike as old as he was and in the same sort of condition. He called the bike Sophia. Peter Moore's tone is very casual, so the book easy to read. It actually reads as though he's talking to you over drinks (or rather, ponce, like did in his book) and telling you about his adventures with Sophia. I love he gave each town/city/village he visits its personality because of his descriptions of them. I also really liked the subplot of him looking for the elusive green Vespa on Kinder Egg Surprise chocolates throughout his trip. He was the kind of traveller who would go see a place beyond its tourist spots. He learned about their histories, and tried to immerse himself in the local culture. He also told a lot about the history of the Vespa and how it impacted the Italians' way of life. I love that Sophia (and the people enamored by her) helped pave the way for Peter and us, the readers, to see what's not written in guidebooks.
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you? Just do it!

Book: Dark Star Safari (Overland from Cairo to Cape Town)
Author: Paul Theroux
Reviewed by: Just Wandering
Thoughts:Approaching a landmark birthday (60 years), Paul Theoroux decides to go back to Africa and travel from Cairo to Cape Town overland. He travels to Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The biggest strength of the book is that it's way off the beaten path. Apart from Egypt and South Africa, he features places that nobody would think to visit. He has worked in Africa before and can speak some of the native languages, so he was able to interact with the locals. He gives a brief history of the towns and cities he passes through and gives a pretty straightforward description place of just how much the place has deteriorated from when he was living there several decades prior. He can get pretty serious with the political stuff, but generally, it's not a hard book to read. One of my favorite quotes from the book: The greatest justification for travel is not self improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace.
What was the best travel trivia/advice that this book gave you? There are two things that pop to mind when we say Africa: bad news (famine, drought, hunger, war,... etc.) or lions, elephants and zebras. As Paul Theroux describes, taking the African Safari takes you to the "safe" Africa: far and isolated from the locals. If you want to really experience Africa, it's best to do it by going on your own and traveling overland.

Another friend took on The Ladies of Llangollen by Elizabeth Mavor, about two Irish upper-society women who ran away from their families and set up home together in Llangollen, but I'm not sure if she was able to finish it. Still, I think it was a good start for all of us. Not only did it give us that added push we needed to finish these books, but our online discussions made us feel that we've just read eight books in one go. We're about to start on our October challenge (which predictably is anything horror/occult/paranormal/thriller) and I already can't wait!


Kyameel said...

This is neat, seeing everyone's comments on one page-- hee. Thanks Chris!

dementedchris said...

No prob, Kyam! But really, thank you for letting me share at least a few of the comments :P

Cla said...

This was a really nice start to our book club! Excited for the next one :-)

dementedchris said...

Same here, Cla! I've got a couple of books in mind --- the one I want to read might be too scary for me so I have a backup haha.