Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “travel”

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #49: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: Eat, Pray, Love
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary: A humorous and relatable story with such great characters it’s hard to believe they weren’t invented just for this book.

What do you do if you have everything you “should” want and are still unhappy? In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert shares her story of leaving it all – a promising career, a comfortable home, and even her marriage – to travel the world in search of happiness. Like Cecilia Ahearn, I expected Elizabeth Gilbert to be too “girly” or emotional of an author for me and was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the book includes many emotional topics, such as the author’s agonizing divorce proceedings, but she describes everything in a relatable, humorous way. She comes across as very down-to-earth and comfortable laughing at herself and never became too angsty.

Read more on Doing Dewey.


Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #17: A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson and the Appalachian Trail.  Mostly entertaining, first half maybe a bit more so than the second half.  Also, for avid hikers, he doesn’t actually finish the entire trail so this may or may not shade someone’s view of the book.  (Given that this is Bryson, I don’t think that really counts as a spoiler since it’s not like people read Bryson for the plot as much as the tangents and the random ancedotes).

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #48: The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, by Andrew McCarthy

Andrew McCarthy is a familiar face to anyone who grew up in the ’80s, for his film work with the “Brat Pack” and beyond, with contributions to movies that have entered American pop culture — Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Weekend at Bernie’s. McCarthy has been acting steadily since his first film, in 1983, Class, which co-starred Jacqueline Bisset. But what some may not be aware of is that McCarthy is also a director (a short film and television) and has found a second career as an award-winning travel writer, contributing articles to such publications as National Geographic Traveler (where he is an editor-at-large), Travel+Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Slate.

His new book, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down combines his flair for writing about exotic locales with his personal quest to commit to marrying his long-time girlfriend.

The Longest Way Home is an interesting combination of memoir and travel writing. McCarthy is engaging whether he is telling stories about his childhood in New Jersey, his early Hollywood success, trying to conquer his demons, or recounting his trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

McCarthy is unfailingly honest as he confronts his fear of commitment. He had already been married and divorced, an although deeply in love with his new partner, is wary of taking the next step towards marriage. Prone to self-examination, he realizes that he has always been a bit of a loner and an outsider, and doesn’t want to repeat his previous mistakes of distancing himself from his wife and family. As he and his fiancée plan their upcoming nuptials, he accepts a series of travel assignments, which at first may seem like an escape from home and planning their wedding, but which actually helps him confront his fears and prepare him for his future life with her and their children.

He takes the reader along with him as he walks the route of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, hikes across a glacier in Patagonia, travels the Amazon via boat, explores Baltimore with a close friend, and climbs Kilimanjaro. Most of McCarthy’s traveling is done solo. He doesn’t tend to want to share his travel experiences with others — his trips are more personal quests. Most of the time he feels rather separate from the world he is visiting. After strolling by houses in Patagonia with families crowded around the TV or doing some domestic chore he observes:

“I’ve seen similar scenes in small towns in Brazil and Cambodia and even the American West — lives being lived with unselfconscious deliberateness. There’s no desire, or no energy, to pretend anything. I see desperate disappointment and loneliness in such scenes of domesticity and routine. I feel far removed and want no part of them. Yet I can’t look away. What hunger of theirs is being fed, when they seem to me instead like scenarios of slow decay? What is it about these scenes that I don’t understand?”

He is always interesting in his descriptions of the sights he sees, finding hidden treasures in unfamiliar and familiar places. A visit to Baltimore and the house where Babe Ruth was born is an opportunity for McCarthy to talk about one of his favorite things — the home as micro museum. He first visited such a museum with his first wife in Stockholm, Sweden — playwright and novelist August Strindberg’s house.

“What I feared would be a dreary and dull hour proved be a fascinating look inside the writer’s life. His desk and chair, his pens and notebooks and letters, his eyeglasses and walking stick, relics of his life, proved fascinating. I have sought out home museums ever since.”

The more McCarthy travels, the more he finds himself being pulled towards people, and wanting to involve his family in this part of his life. As the book progresses, he’s no longer quite the loner that he used to be. Readers will enjoy taking this journey with McCarthy, and may be tempted to plan some soul-searching travel of their own.

Article first published as Book Review: The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy on Blogcritics.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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ElCicco#CBR4Review#30: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter



… [T]rue quests aren’t measured in time or distance … so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant — sail for Asia and stumble on America — and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along. 

Beautiful Ruins is a story of quests. Spanning a 50 year period starting in 1962, the characters in this novel each have a quest or dream of some sort — for fame, success, love. It is a humorous and charming novel that moves back and forth between a small Italian coastal village in 1962 and the West Coast of the US today, with special focus on the movie industry.

The action starts in a small coastal Italian fishing village called Porto Vergogna — Port of Shame. Pasquale, age 20, is trying to build up a beach so that the family hotel, the Hotel Adequate View, can become a jet setters’ vacation destination. He has big dreams to build a tennis court on a cliff, attract Americans and so on. The local fishermen think he is crazy as he piles up rocks that get washed away with the tides. Then one day, a gorgeous American starlet shows up at the hotel. Within a few short days, Pasquale’s dreams and his life undergo a dramatic shift.

In modern day LA, Claire, an assistant to a once successful movie producer named Michael Deane, is growing restless over her job and her porn-addicted boyfriend. She wants to make meaningful, important films and not the dreck that Deane produces. She is ready for a change, but should she leave her boyfriend? Should she leave her job to work for a film museum that the Scientologists are building? On a fateful “wild pitch” Friday, when friends, acquaintances and people owed favors by Michael Deane are given an audience to pitch truly outlandish film and TV ideas, Claire meets a young writer and an old Italian gentleman. Within a few short days, her dreams and life undergo a dramatic shift.

From here, Walter artfully weaves the stories together, fleshing out his characters (including actor Richard Burton, filming Cleopatra in Italy in 1962) and unfolding the events that link the first two chapters together. While much in the story is sad — separated lovers, betrayal, death — there is a generous amount of humor in the writing, such as this interchange between Pasquale and his mother:

“You should push me out into the sea and drown me like that old sick cat of yours.”

Pasquale straightened. “You said my cat ran away. While I was at university.”

She shot him a glance from the corner of her eye. “It is a saying.”

“No. It’s not a saying. There’s no such saying as that. Did you and Papa drown my cat while I was in Florence?”

“I’m sick, Pasqo! Why do you torment me?”

And this description of Michael Deane:

The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed. After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem cell injections that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.

The novel ends on a bittersweet note, but I won’t tell more than that. It’s an enjoyable read and perfect for summer vacation if you are looking for a good book.

funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #03: The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome by Arthur Ransome

“I had a private rite to perform. Without letting the others know what I was doing, I had to dip my hand in the water, as a greeting to the beloved lake or as a proof to myself that I had indeed come home. In later years, even as an old man, I have laughed at myself, resolved not to do it, and every time have done it again.” (26)

“Those who rewrite history must see to it that no contradictory witnesses survive. Once history has been rewritten there is always a temptation to rewrite it again.” (317)

Last autumn, my neck of the woods was chilly and damp and grey, with the wind veering  between raw and buffeting, blowing off hats and tossing litter along the street, and sneakily piercing, penetrating even the most carefully layered items of clothing, the best insulated houses – of which there aren’t many around here. I had a really miserable attack of the flu. During this time, after I’d hydrated and medicated and steamed and wrapped up warm, the only solace I found was in reading books I enjoyed as a kid – books which transported me far away from the sneezy and self-pitying present to a simpler time and place, where holidays seemed to last forever, when thunderstorms were exciting, where adventures were just around the corner and ended with a cup of hot cocoa. One of the best  comfort-reads ever, in my opinion, is Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series.

Written between 1929 and 1940, they centre on the adventures of the Swallows (named after their boat), the Walker family, two girls and two boys aged 8 to about 15 (I would hazard), and their deadly enemies and best friends the Amazons, two girls in their early teens and self-styled pirates. These adventures mostly consist of sailing (all the children know their way about a boat and some of the most effective passages surprisingly involve descriptions of ropes and sails and ballast), fishing, camping and climbing in the Lake District. They band together against unfriendly grownups (though their own parents are of the right sort), they play Robinson Crusoe, and generally spend their holidays rejoicing in the unfettered freedom to explore both water and land, get lost in moorland fogs, accidentally sail to Holland, catch all the fish they can eat and mount daring raids and skirmishes against each other. They’re great fun, and I’d recommend them for kids aged 7-13, I guess, as well as adults wanting uncomplicated and soothing reading.

After I’d got well again, I came across Arthur Ransome’s (1884-1967) autobiography and being interested in literary lives and suchlike, I thought I’d give it a shot. It was fascinating. Despite the usual problem of autobiographies in which anecdotes involve people one hasn’t heard of and doesn’t know, it manages to remain an interesting portrait of the man, his travels and his times.

Ransome was born and grew up in the North of England, and had an unhappy time at his public school, due partly to the fact that he could see very little without his glasses. The teachers were oppressive, his companions cruel, and curiously the censorship of letters home foreshadows Ransome’s experiences as a journalist in Russia during the Revolution. This theme of miserable public school days seems to be not uncommon among childrens’ writers of the first half of the twentieth century; C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl spring to mind. Perhaps the experience of rigidly regimented term times among unpleasant characters contribute to the sense of escape and camaraderie in their novels. Summer holidays in the Lake District provided a welcome change and later obviously influenced Swallows and Amazons. After a year of unsuccessfully studying chemistry at Yorkshire College, he gave up and went to London to pursue his dream of a writing career, working in various publishing houses, and giving himself the literary education he desired; he attributed his later problems with ulcers to the fact that he often bought books instead of food.

Ransome married an unstable woman named Ivy, and had a daughter who fades out of the narrative after five brief mentions, her eventual fate left untold. In 1913 Ransome went to Russia to study folklore for a series of fairy-tales; this is when the autobiography gets really interesting, as he gets swept up in the events preceding the Revolution, partly because of his rudimentary self-taught Russian, partly because of his press pass, and partly due to ending up in the most dangerous places at dangerous times.

Told in the same lucid, measured prose as Swallows and Amazons, Ransome reports the tensions and moods of the Russian people and political parties as the Germans advance and morale among Russian soldiers and people crumbles. Ironically, he has no interest in politics; when asked to define his leanings by the British Foreign Office, he answers “fishing.” This, in his opinion, gives him a clarity of perspective on the injustices perpetuated by the Tsarist regime as well as the fanaticism of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and other socialist parties. Ransome recounts the occasional atrocity on both sides, examines the motives behind the machinations of both secret police and undercover anarchist, and analyses the rhetoric of Lenin and Trotsky among others. Ransome ends up fleeing Petrograd with Trotsky’s secretary Evgenia, who becomes his wife.  He also, according to his narrative, plays a great deal of chess with Red and White officers, drinks vast amounts of tea with ordinary people, and carried messages between “Esthonia” and what was to become the Soviet Union. The narrative is so detailed that it keeps the reader firmly in the present with him; the occasional glimpses of hindsight almost come as a shock, particularly when they deal with the fates of his friends (whose names vaguely echo down to me from high school history classes):

The revolution eats its children, and almost all the revolutionary leaders of that time have since been removed by execution or other violent means. My friend Vorovsky was murdered in Switzerland. My friend Bukharin, the most interesting talker of them all, after Lenin, was shot in 1937. Rykov: shot; Krestinsky: shot; Zinoviev: shot; Kamenev: shot; Trotsky: murdered in Mexico. I do not know whether Radek is alive or dead. (I do not think he ever came back from banishment to Tobolsk.) (265)

This is a grim litany, enhanced by its dispassionate tone; bleak times lie ahead as Ransome notes the efforts of Stalinist propaganda to erase these men from history.

Yet Ransome does not solely deal with famine, secret diplomatic messages and harrowing travels through occupied territory where even with two sets of papers a mistake could cost a man’s life; he finds time for sailing in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland, and fishing on the Esthonian coast and Finnish archipelago. Later he travels in Egypt, (a section which drags a bit) and after that decides that journalism is no longer for him and decides to try and earn a full-time living with writing. Swallows and Amazons, a tale of a carefree summer, was the result.

I realise this book has a very niche sort of interest; I’d definitely recommend the book to lovers of Swallows and Amazons, and those who enjoy travellers’ tales, perhaps those who like reading personal accounts of historical events, but I’m not sure who else would find it as fascinating as I did.

Ransome, Arthur. The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome. Ed. Rupert Hart-Davies. London: Jonathan Cape, 1976.

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