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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, January 21, 2001

Travel Book Is Next Best Way to See World

What I remember about the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant is not his philosophy but the fact that his neighbors could set their clocks by the regularity of his afternoon walks and that in the course of his life, he rarely left his hometown of Konigsberg but was an avid reader of travel books. Kant was able to maintain his beloved daily routine while traveling in his imagination to other places.

For those who are also enamored of a familiar existence amidst the comforts of home and who may not be able to afford to travel extensively anyway, the advantages of armchair travel by book are readily apparent.

There is no need for a plane ticket. All you need is a library card. Fly trans-book airlines; it will get you there on time.

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach (Random House, 2000).

Her two sons grown and graduated from college, Steinbach decided to take a sabbatical from her journalism job and spend nine months in Europe. It was her way of getting back in touch with herself, independent of the roles of divorced mother and journalist.

First, she went to Paris, where she met a Japanese gentleman, with whom she shared a passion for this beautiful city. Then she attended a summer session at Oxford, where she learned the importance of letting go and having fun from an unlikely dancing instructor. The last part of her journey was spent in Rome and the small towns of Italy. Wherever she went, she found friends and though she was admirably independent, she came to depend, like Blanche DuBois, on the kindness of strangers.

In Tuscany by Frances Mayes (Broadway, 2000).

Mayes follows her two best-selling books on Tuscany with this picture book of breathtakingly beautiful photographs of the region, accompanied by her essays on different aspects of Tuscan life and recipes of Tuscan cooking.

Frances loves Tuscany and her enthusiasm is catching. She makes it sound like a paradise of living slowly and close to the earth while eating food and drinking wine fit for the gods. She claims that there are more things about Tuscany that she doesn't know than she has learned so far. And the more she knows, the more she loves.

A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow by Tim Brookes (National Geographic, 2000).

Tim Brookes is a transplanted Englishmen who has taught at the University of Vermont since the mid-'70s. His first introduction to the United States was as a cross- country hitchhiker. He liked what he saw so much that he decided to stay. Approaching the age of fifty, he decided to try to repeat the journey of his youth. What he found out is that Jay Gatsby was wrong. You can't repeat the past.

He concludes magnanimously that it is he who has changed and not the country, but I don't believe him. His book is a testament of how consumerism and the malling of America have tapped away the nation's character. Only in small towns does he find the America he remembers. Yet, he has no difficulty finding rides-mostly from guys driving pickups who had hitchhiked themselves earlier in their lives. He discovers that Americans have not lost their openness and friendliness, even if their countryside is littered with strip malls and Wal-marts.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik (Random House, 2000).

Most of these essays first appeared in The New Yorker, and their brilliance and luminosity are a credit to the magazine. Gopnik and his wife decided that their son's first five years would be spent in Paris in an attempt to protect him from the numbing influence of American television. All I can say is that little Luke is a very lucky guy. His childhood memories will be the Parisian circus, puppet shows, carousel rides, playing in the Luxembourg Gardens, and eating some of the world's greatest foods in street corner bistros.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.