Read this: Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Insomniac City
by Bill Hayes

A while back, I saw a picture of this book on Instagram (can’t for the life of me remember who posted it…); it grabbed my attention, I screen-shotted it to come back to later, and forgot about it. A week later, I was Googling books about/set in some of the cities we’ll be visiting on our big trip, and it came up again, under New York books. Onto my library app I went to reserve it, and I collected it a week later…

“In the haggard buildings and bloodshot skies, in trains that never stopped running like my racing mind at night, I recognized my insomniac self. If New York were a patient, it would be diagnosed with agrypnia excitata, a rare genetic condition characterized by insomnia, nervous energy, constant twitching, and dream enactment – an apt description of a city that never sleeps, a place where one comes to reinvent himself.”

Written by Bill Hayes, a writer and photographer who packed up and left San Francisco for a fresh start in New York, where he made a new life for himself and fell in love with Oliver Sacks, a particularly brilliant neurologist.

When I realised this booked was about Sacks as much as it was about New York, I knew I was meant to read it; I had just completed an online course in psychology from the University of Toronto through Coursera in which Dr Sack’s name came up a few times, with some of his work recommended as further reading.

Back to Insomniac City; Hayes write about his experiences of living in New York  as an insomniac, with his writings interspersed with diary and journal entries. I found it to be a really easy read and flew through it in only a few train rides to/from work – while a good part of the book covers their slightly unconventional love story, the parts that really drew me in were Hayes’ recollections of the city itself on those nights sleep evaded him and he went out into the city to explore.

“I’ve lived in New York long enough to understand why some people hate it here: the crowds, the noise, the traffic, the expense, the rents; the messed-up sidewalks and pothole-pocked streets; the weather that brings hurricanes named after girls that break your heart and take away everything.

It requires a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here. But New York repays you in time in memorable encounters, at the very least. Just remember: ask first, don’t grab, be fair, say please and thank you- even if you don’t get something back right away. You will.”

I loved reading about all of his chance encounters with his feller New Yorkers, all of the beautiful dialogues that came simply from asking people if he could take their photo. He writes so charmingly about his adopted city and it’s people; his descriptions all felt so real to me, it was so easy to place myself right there with him…

It was also a wonderful insight into the brilliant mind of Oliver Sacks; there’s so much we could learn from the way he viewed the world, which lead me to his book “Gratitude,” a collection of four of his essays. Highly recommend both for a weekend read 🙂

Read this: Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies) by Vincent Adams Winter

Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies)
by Vincent Adams Winters

Considering the fact that I found this at an op shop, it contains absolutely no publication details, and a search online didn’t turn up any results other than a listing in the National Library of Australia catalog, this isn’t so much a “read this book” post as it is a “give your local op shop book shelves a proper look through” post.

Second hand book shops are my favourite places to pass the time. They are honest-to-goodness treasure troves, and some of my favourite are ones that I’ve found tucked away under dusty piles of random volumes. This one I discovered in an op shop in Healesville – the bright cover and title got my attention, but once I saw what it was all about, I knew I had to have it.

Written by Vince, it has all the hallmarks of being a written-for-fun book, recounting Vince and wife Betty’s adventures on their 18 months and over 20 country trip around the world in 1979-80. Vince introduces the book with a strong message that age, health and budget restrictions shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and seeing the world; both in their sixties at the time of the trip, Betty had club foot and hyper-tension, and Vince suffered from Parkinson’s disease. They visited doctors or hospitals every 6 weeks or so for treatment and medication, which was crazy to read about so many years later – imagine rolling up to a hospital in Barcelona with a letter from your doctor asking them to dispense some medication to you?!

Reading through this book was an incredible trip back in time; there was so much more freedom back then in how you could travel, few real restrictions on visas and border crossings like there are now, no real worries in finding accommodation, no serious concerns in talking to strangers. I’m a big fan of journalling as a bit of a time capsule, a way of capturing a piece of the world as it is right now, and that’s exactly what Vince and Betty’s book was.

It was also really entertaining to read about how they liked to travel – upon arriving in each new city, they had two requirements they liked to have met:
1. A bus tour of the city to get their bearings and see the general outlay, while learning a few facts about the place.
2. Accommodation that provided a good on-site restaurant, because a quality breakfast and dinner were paramount.

This second point I related to particularly well, as husband and I are particularly keen on being well fed on our travels (the main difference being that we like to get out and try as much local cuisine as possible, generally avoiding hotel restaurants like the plague). This passage in particular summed up their attitude for the bulk of their trip, and had me in stitches trying to picture it…

“Leaving Solvesborg, still through dairying and wheat country similar to that between Malmo and Solvesburg, we decided to stop at Vostervik for our customary pre-lunch drink. It is a fairly large town but an hour of investigating failed to find a bar or cafe selling beer. Leaving in disgust and finding out way to the main road with some difficulty we drove only five kilometres further where we got our drink.”

 

They also kindly added in an appendix first page below) tracking their spendings on accommodation and meals… googling inflation conversions of these rates today was a bit of an eye-opener!

To think this little gem ended up in an op shop in regional Victoria, selling for only $3.50, and ending up in my hands is incredible; it also has to make you wonder how many other little treasures are floating around out there in the world with so much information and so many beautiful stories to offer… next time you’re at a second hand bookshop, take a bit of time to trawl through the stacks; you never know what you might find 🙂

 

Read this: Travels by Michael Crichton

 Travels
by Michael Crichton

I actually can’t remember where I first came across this book, but its been on my to-read list for a while, along with a few of his other books. But I managed to get my paws on this cheap, old copy via eBay, and tore through it a lot faster than I expected to! I personally loved it from page 1, but it definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Michael Crichton goes right back to the start, when he was studying medicine, before he “made it” as a writer, which may seem a little pointless, but is completely necessary to show you why he turned to travel. This was where I realised this was the perfect book for me to be reading…

“I conceived these trips as vacations – as respites from my ongoing life – but that wasn’t how they turned out. Eventually, I realized that many of the most important changes in my life had come about because of my travel experiences. For, however tame when compared to the excursions of real adventurers, these trips were genuine adventures for me: I struggled with my fears and limitations, and I learned whatever I was able to learn.”

He wrote that he travelled because he felt lost. He felt the pressures of society and expectations. He had a lot going on in his head that he was trying to make sense of. Me too. He actually summed it up pretty well in this passage…

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am… Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routine, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes – with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

He writes about some truly fascinating experiences that he’s had around the world, and writes wonderfully frankly about the impact those experiences have had on him. He also writes about more spiritual experiences and the conflict that caused in his scientific, logical brain. But at the end of the day, he’s open to so many experiences, and as someone who is terrified of the unknown, I really have to admire that – the outcomes were always brilliant learning experiences, and always took him that little bit closer to learning what he felt he needed to know about himself.

“I couldn’t stop trying to control everything… I had been taught countless times that you were supposed to make things happen, that anything less implied shameful passivity. I lived all my life in cities, struggling shoulder to shoulder with other struggling people… when I finally began to crack, when I tried to control everything about my life and my work and the people around me, I somehow ended up in a Malaysian jungle and experiences a solid week of events over which I had absolutely no control. And never would. Events that reminded me that I had my limits and I had no business trying to control as much as I did, even if I could.”

This is not a travel memoir in the typical sense, but a book that seriously challenges what you believe in terms of your own limits, and that’s a book worth reading. Grab a copy here 🙂

Read this: A Traveller’s Year compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

A Traveller’s Year 
compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Christmas and were able to enjoy some time with their loved ones! I also hope that if you had a Christmas wish, it came true; all I really wanted this Christmas break was to have a bit of time for some quiet Boxing Day reading before going back to work today (what I wouldn’t have given for just one more day off…), and I happily did 🙂 Among the books that have had my attention this Christmas weekend was this absolute gem, which I picked up around this time last year.

It’s my dream book; a compilation of travel writing, from books and journals, from both men and women, covering a time span from the 1700s until the current day, with a few entries per day. The writings collected cover everything from grand adventures to epic voyages to the regular yearly vacation.

While I’ll read just about anything but a romantic sappy love story,  a vast bulk of my book collection is made up of old travel writing. Stephen Brooks’ “New York Days, New York Nights.” Frank Korbl’s “Born To Travel.” Jan Morris’ “Journeys.” Ralph Parlette’s “A Globegadder’s Diary.” Tiziano Terzani’s “A Fortune Teller Told Me.” Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar.” And my hands down favourite of the vintage adventure genre, Cedric Belfrage’s “Away From It All: An Escapologist’s Notebook.”

This book is like all of them combined, plus more, on steroids. It’s the most beautiful collection of travel writing, with every piece offering something different from places all over the globe, all written very differently yet all so descriptive in their own ways…

“I have spent one hour in St. Peters, walked through the Forum Romanum, and seen the Arch of Septimus Severus, the portico of the Temple of Saturn, the three beautiful columns of the Temple of Vespasian… How I like to write down the illustrious names of what I have all my life long so much desires to see! I cluster them together like jewels, and exult over them.”
– Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, NOTES IN ENGLAND & ITALY (1858)

I’ve been trying to read the day’s entries before I go to bed each night, and if you’re head and heart are filled with wanderlust and dreams of adventure, too, this is the perfect book to treat yourself to this new year; pick up a copy here!

Project Cookbook complete: Meet THE KITCHEN PASSPORT!

Well this is mighty exciting to be able to finally post… Say hi to the little book I put together:

THE KITCHEN PASSPORT:
Getting Around The World & Bringing It Back To Your Table

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If you’ve been playing along for a while, you may remember this post, or this one; the little passion project I started two years ago got a little out of control and ended up as a kind of cookbook / travel guide / journal hybrid, almost 170 pages long, with 63 recipes, full colour photos and notes from around the world, and I’m pretty excited to say is finally finished and ready to fly out into the world!

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Let me tell you a bit more about it and why I decided that I wanted to share it…

This book is a collection of recipes inspired by meals I’ve enjoyed on my travels, as well as some of the stories behind them, the places I first ate them, the markets I visited, and the people I met on the way. My hope is that anyone who does find themselves with a copy can use it as part cookbook, part travel guide, part voyeuristic look into my diary.

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Food plays such a huge role in cultural identity and is one of, if not the best ways to get to know a new city. It has the power to bring together strangers, to communicate entire histories, and to create amazing memories which will still be with you as you eat that same dish 10 years later. My greatest travel memories can be recalled so easily through the senses of taste and smell; through food. I want to give others an easy way to either recreate food from their travels, too, and others still (and maybe more importantly) a way to taste a bit of the world they haven’t visited yet.

cookbook1

I’m neither a professional chef nor writer. I have no training in photography or visual design. I’m just another girl who wants to leave behind some of that which I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. I hope this little book inspires some to travel and brings back fond memories for others. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed taking the adventures that are behind it.

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If you’d like a bit more of a preview of the book, or to actually purchase a copy, follow the link and head on over to Blurb Books, where it’s being sold in hardcover, softcover (unfortunately printing “real” books these days isn’t a cheap venture, I’ve done my best to keep the costs down!), eBook and PDF formats, with pricing (ex GST & shipping) below:

Hardcover: AUD$51.99
Softcover: AUD$36.99
eBook: AUD$19.98
PDF: AUD$9.99

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And if you do end up with a copy, I really, truly do hope you enjoy the escape from reality and return of fond memories while reading and cooking from it 🙂

Read this: The Great Global Bucket List by Robin Esrock

The Great Global Bucket List
by Robin Esrock
http://www.globalbucketlist.com/

“For over a decade, renowned travel journalist, bestselling author and TV host Robin Esrock scoured the globe in search of one-of-a-kind, bucket list-worthy experiences. During his remarkable journey to over 100 countries on seven continents, Esrock uncovered unique adventures, fascinating histories, cultural spectacles and unforgettable characters – proving that modern travel is so much more than over-trafficked tourist attractions.”

When you’re anything like me and read an introduction like that and the lovely people at Affirm Press kindly offer to send you a copy, you get excited! Everything about that paragraph got to me, because it’s everything I’ve ever dreamed about. As long as I can remember, there have always been three things in life that I’ve wanted to do; learn as much as I can through reading (yes, major bookworm and nerd, I’m ok with it), travel the world, and write about it. This guy is doing just that. He’s seen the world and wrote a book about it. That was a book I needed to read.

Covering everywhere from place as far-flung as Nicaragua and Mongolia, to more common places like Italy and Thailand, he’s literally seen it all. The amount of things he’s seen and experienced is absolutely mind-blowing, and eye-opening. The bucket list items aren’t for everyone, being of the more adventurous nature. Experiences like biking down the “Death Road” in Bolivia, for example, are definitely not my jam… but hot air ballooning over Bagan in Burma or taking part in the world’s biggest food fight in Spain definitely are! Then there were things like Burning Man, which I’ve heard only bits about but now want to know more after reading what Robin had to say about it.

While parts of the book felt a bit forced and read as trying a bit too hard to be funny (“First stop is a treat of the ancient world, Chichén Itzá, not to be confused with chicken pizza, which happens to be delicious.”), it was fantastic to see a great deal of photos taken of and by Robin himself, because it made it so much more real. There is absolutely nothing more depressing than a travel book where all the photos look photo-shopped, because you just know that sort of an adventure is out of reach for us real people. Especially because adventure isn’t out of reach for any of us – especially not with a bit of inspiration like this.

You can pick up a copy (and inspiration for your next adventure) here, and in the mean time, you can check out Robin’s website for more information on all of his favourite bucket list items.

Read this: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

So Sad Today
by Melissa Broder

I saw a photo of this book alongside a nice big Starbucks cup on Kate’s Instagram page while I was stalking her trip around New York and that combined with her caption was about all it took to convince me to buy myself a copy.

A poet and writer who started the @SoSadToday Twitter account a few years ago, Broder brought out this little pink and purple gem of personal essays a few months ago, and I think it’s an either love it or hate it kinda read. I loved it.

While I’ve never been addicted to drugs, had an open marriage or gone on anonymous sex benders, there was a lot I COULD relate to. She writes brutally and honestly about topics that I still find difficult to even just contemplate in my own mind, let alone voice out loud.

Disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

Depression and anti-depressants and their effects.

Crippling anxiety and feeling so much safer when you’re alone.

The essay entitled “Honk If There’s A Committee In Your Head Trying To Kill You” made me laugh and almost cry at the same time. Because that is exactly how I feel a lot of the time! Actually, a lot of her thoughts rang bells for me; this crazy woman has managed to voice so much of my demented internal monologue, it’s actually frightening. And kind of comforting, knowing that I’m really not alone. The start of her essay “I Want to Be a Whole Person but Really Thin” was another one that really stopped me in my tracks and made me feel things I didn’t want to feel and acknowledge. This is how it starts…

I am a vanity eater, a machinelike eater, a suppresser-of-feels eater. I save the bulk of my calories for the end of the day so that I have something sweet and seemingly unlimited to look forward to. I do not trust the universe to provide anything to fill my apparently bottomless hunger. That’s the case with my consumption of a whole pint of diet ice cream with six packets of Equal poured into it every single night. It’s a way of offering myself something cloyingly saccharine and seemingly infinite. I don’t believe that the world, or god, will give me that sweetness. So I am giving it to myself. I am going to bed full of sweetness that the day may not have provided. And I am defeating the laws of nature by doing this with diet ice cream. Most nights I would rather curl up with the diet ice cream than be in the world.

 

I think the most difficult thing that some readers will find with this book is the concept of “first world problems” and thinking that actually, compared to some people, she probably wasn’t struggling that badly. But as she writes, and something else that really rang true for me, “I feel bad about my struggle, because it is nothing compared to other people’s struggled and yet it still hurts.”

What I think I love most about this book is that it’s really not mopey or whiney or “feel sorry for me and my middle-class white-girl problems.” That’s certainly not how it came across to me, anyway. Everyone has their struggles and their demons, and everyone deals with them differently. This particular woman decided to write about some of hers (and I can relate because I’ve always turned to writing when things have been hard), and that’s brave.

The knowledge that you’re not the only one who is so sad today, for whatever reasons, is a comfort. And for my generation of women, who are expected to have a stellar career and perfect marriage and beautiful children and stay thin and fit and healthy, but still eat burgers with the guys and enjoy cocktails with the girls, and have time to workout and read and volunteer and shop and cook and clean and work and all the other crap, sometimes the best thing in the world is to know we’re not alone, our worries aren’t petty, and that what we’re going through matters. Grab a copy here and enjoy (or not!)  🙂