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: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
by the Italian Academy of Cuisine


So, at almost 1000 pages long, it’s not exactly a “curl up with a pot of tea and read it on Saturday morning” kind of book. But, it’s also a lot more than just a cookbook. I’ve found myself picking it up and flicking through it more than usual lately, and as you can probably tell by the top of the dustcover, I spend a bit of time with this book…

A few decades ago, some thoughtful, clever Italians came together with the idea of preserving their culinary legacy. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine and set their sights on the lofty goal of recording the classic Italian recipes from all over the country. Including/especially those very specific, regional ones that have (until now) only been passed down verbally through the generations.

With over 7,600 members across the country, they were able to get their paws on some 2,000 recipes, covering everything from pasta to vegetables to desserts and literally everything in between. These are the precious recipes that are cooked in only this or that region of Italy. Recipes that have graced the dinner tables for generations. Recipes that would have eventually been lost as the generations stopped cooking them, or stopped remembering how much flour and salt Nonna said the dough needed.

Not only are there the recipes, but like in the photo below, scattered throughout the book are little snippets of “local traditions;” with half of my family from Northern Italy and the other half from Southern Italy, there’s a lot in between I don’t know much about! And if you love to travel and learn about other cultures through their culinary traditions half as much as I do, you’re going to find a veritable treasure trove in these pages…

One of the most beautiful things about this book is the point made in the introduction – it is very much recognised that every Italian has their own way of making a dish their own (I can vouch for that), so this is not intended to be a “correct to the last letter” type of cookbook…

“Interpretation, improvisation – these are essential characteristics of Italian coking. Thus while we have strived to present the most iconic version of key regional dishes, it is up to you, the home cook, to make them your own.”

Pick up a copy here and start reading/cooking!

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!

Read this: The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar 
by Paul Theroux

Only 280 sleeps to go until the big adventure! Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but actually 280 sleeps isn’t all that many… 9 months… and still so much to do before then!

Anyway, it’s never too early for me to start getting excited about my next adventure, and a lot of my reading reflects that. I love to read older travel books, written by proper adventurers, before the advent of technology came and changed travel. I love to read about how travel was before everyone was in a hurry to just get to a place and see the tourist attractions and get their photo and tick it off the list, when it was just as much about the journey as it was the destination.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Great Railway Bazaar, and I couldn’t agree more with the commendation on the cover – it was truly entertaining, from start to finish. Paul Theroux’s travelogue takes us from London through the Middle East, India, Asia and Siberia. He was travelling for the sake of travelling, all by rail (well, as much as was possible by rail), back in the mid 1970s. Just on the road because he wanted to be. Experiencing rail travel in country after country, watching the world go by, and writing about it all as it went.

“But he does not know – how could he? – that the scenes changing in the train window from Victoria Station to Tokyo Central are nothing compares to the change in himself.”

It mesmerised me. Every page. I fell in love with train back in 2013 when we caught a few trains around Europe. That’s the way travel should be; slow. Time to think. Time to take it in. Not running around airports like headless chooks – I hate that. I’m even more looking forward to all of the train trips we’ll have in this next big trip after reading this one.

The other thing that really got me about this book was how incredibly descriptive it was. I’ve read plenty of books that paint a lovely picture, but not terribly realistic; with so many passages in this book, I actually felt like I was there…

“It was a single-line track, but squatters had moved their huts so close to it, I could look into their windows and across rooms where children sat playing on the floor; I could smell the cooking food – fish and blistering meat – and see people waking and dressing; at one window a man in a hammock swung inches from my nose. There was fruit on the window sills, and it stirred – an orange beginning to roll – as the train sped by. I have never had a stronger feeling of being in the houses I was passing, and I had a continuous sense of interrupting with my face some domestic routine. But I was imagining the intrusion: the people in those poor houses seemed not to notice the strangers at their windows.”

 

Anyway, I got my copy at a second hand bookstore, but you can also get one here. Happy reading 🙂

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!)  🙂

Read this: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence
by Orhan Pamuk

I came across this book a few months ago while reading a travel magazine that mentioned a few books worth reading that were set in certain cities. Considering we’re planning to visit Turkey next year, and it was described as being a beautiful look at Istanbul over the past few decades, I thought I’d add it to my reading list without looking too much more into it.

How to describe this book… I really have no idea. There are a few aspects to it, for me…

1. I guess on the surface it’s a bit of a demented love story. Kemal, the gentleman telling his story back in this book (beginning in the 1970s), is from a very well-off family in Istanbul society. He’s engaged to another society darling, Sibel, but manages to fall in love with a not so well-off, younger, distant relative (before anyone starts thinking this is more incestual than it sounds, it’s a relation by marriage, not by blood), Füsun.

The book starts when they first meet, and follows an incredibly tumultuous number of years; not to ruin the story for those also wanting to read it, but basically, he’s madly in love with Füsun which costs him his engagement to Sibel, and it seems, ultimately, his happiness. Star-crossed lovers, heart break, romance, etc, etc.

 

2. At several points while reading this (very long) book, I was ready to throw in the towel, because I am not a fan of romance novels. I don’t care for love lost or “The Notebook” or star-crossed lovers or any other crap like that. At those points, it just felt like a sad romance novel. But then I’d read parts like this and I realised that it actually wasn’t just a love story after all; it was a story of melancholy, of loss, of confusion, of someone trying to find meaning in their life. That, I could relate to.

“‘Don’t worry, it will pass,’ he said softly. ‘You’re still young. It’s still very early for you to be losing sleep over this kind of pain, so don’t fret. But when you’re my age, if you have some regrets in life, you’ll have to lie here counting the stars until dawn. Beware of doing things that you might regret later.'”

 

 

3. It was also a really interesting study of Istanbul as a city, with Pamuk noting how the city evolved as the characters did over the years. As someone who was already looking forward to seeing the city, I was really fascinated to read about how it had changed. And, as a woman, I  really enjoyed reading about the changing roles women played in society, and how families and groups of friends interacted. The book was written in such an effortlessly descriptive way that you almost felt you were right there when they were dining in a noisy restaurant or eating at the family dinner table.

 

4. I’ve never had an unrequited impossible love story of my own, yet parts of this novel were so scarily relatable in other ways, and just so, so beautiful…

“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant ‘now,’ even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.

But when we reach the point when our lives take on their final shape, as in a novel, we can identify our happiest moment, selecting it in retrospect, as I am doing now. To explain why we have chosen this moment over all others, it is also natural, and necessary, to retell our stories from the beginning, just as in a novel. But to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return, and that awareness, therefore, of that very moment is painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant. These mementos preserve the colors, textures, images and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.”

Reading this hit home and made sense to me. I’m a journaller, a recorder of details, a hoarder of memories. I am prone to melancholy, nostalgia, quiet sentimentality. I spend a lot of time analysing life and it’s meaning, trying to understand who and what and why I am. So does Kemal, in this book.

 

5. Following on from that sentiment that mementos have the power to preserve memories, Kemal’s character collects bits and pieces throughout the story that remind him of his love, Füsun. Cigarette butts, hair pins, pencils, a shoe, restaurant menus… He collects these things to bring him back to moments that remind him. At the end of the book, he decides to open a museum to display these memories of his life and love, and the author of the book actually opened a real life Museum of Innocence in Istanbul a few years ago.

“Sometimes, thus consoled, I would imagine it possible for me to frame my collection with a story, and I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life… Where I could tell my story through the things that Füsun had left behind, as a lesson to us all.”

 

It was such a strange book, and it seems that people either love it or hate it. I can understand why; I kept thinking I’d hate it when I got to the end, but actually, I absolutely loved it. It was beautiful, and so worth the read. You can grab a copy here – really looking forward to visiting the museum in Istanbul now!