Monday, December 24, 2012

Travel the world by reading books

Books have taken me on many a journey...

Simply Living
December 24, 2012

I didn’t do much traveling in 2012.  Aside from a few trips to Northampton, Mass. to visit Jenny, Brett and our grandchildren, I never left the state, let alone the country.  However, my lack of physical travel doesn’t mean I didn’t take some incredible journeys.

Thanks to the world of literature, books took me across the ocean, throughout the United States and even back in time to bygone eras.  In this week’s column, I’ll share four of my favorite international adventures, exploring books that took me on virtual trips to Afghanistan, Japan, France and Italy.

One of my first on-the-page journeys of 2012 was to far away Afghanistan.  While most news stories about war torn countries are unbearably depressing, we occasionally hear about one with a positive theme.  Such is the case in The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.  Lemmon, a former ABC news reporter provides an intimate in-depth study into the world of Kamila Sidiqi, a young woman whose entrepreneurial efforts helped thousands of Afghani woman overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  With little more than a bit of thread and fabric and an abundance of hope and sisterhood support, Sidiqi’s extraordinary efforts changed the lives of her community forever.  The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a humanitarian story that reads like a novel, uplifting as well as culturally enriching.


While also based in contemporary times, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s 2009 novel, Love inTranslation took me to an entirely different country and culture – modern day Japan.  This cross-cultural look at Tokyo society is viewed through the eyes of an aspiring young American singer who ventures overseas in hope of learning the whereabouts of her absent father.  While the story is rich with humor and tenderness, it was the artfully crafted characters and intriguing glimpses into Asian culture that drew me in and kept me turning pages long after I should have shut off the light and pulled up the covers.  When I finally closed the book late one night after a marathon read, I felt like I had returned home from a long and rewarding trip to Toyko, eager for a return visit.


I’ve never been to France but after reading Pamela Druckerman’s 2012 memoir, Bringing UpBébé : One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting I felt like getting on a plane to cross the ocean.  Not that Druckerman’s book is a travel journal.  It isn’t.  It is an exploration of French parenting techniques written by an American journalist living and raising her own young children with her British husband in modern-day Paris.  However, in the process of exploring the ways French parenting differs from American child-rearing, Druckerman takes the reader along on her daily travels in and about that most romantic of cities.  While telling her tale, the author skillfully exposes a multitude of intriguing cultural differences between the two countries. 

Since my own daughters were struggling with similar childrearing issues as the author, I hoped to find a few helpful tips within the pages.  I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Not only was the information helpful, I found the entire book to be a fascinating and insightful read.  

Although categorized as non-fiction, Bringing Up Bébé reads like a novel with a homespun, somewhat self-deprecating and totally entertaining style.  After finishing the book, I passed it on to my husband and then ordered copies for each of my daughters.  It was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Adriana Trigiani’s 2012 novel, The Shoemaker’s Daughter, is one of those stories that span time as well as continents.  As the story followed the lives of Ciro and Enza through their travels from the Italian Alps to small town Minnesota to bustling Manhattan and back to Italy, I once again found myself caught up in a cultural adventure.  New insights, points of view and perspectives were artful presented in a spellbinding story of love, loss, resilience and hope.  

How fortunate it is to have access to broadening adventures.  Thanks to libraries, bookstores, online resources and word-of-mouth recommendations, a stay-at-home reader like me can travel the world through the magic of words.  

In next week’s column, I’ll share a few of my more domestic adventures; books that have helped me explore the cities, small towns and wilderness areas of our own treasured country. 

Isn’t travel grand!

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