Friday, February 22, 2008

Rx for the Winter Blues

I popped into Chapters on the Grande Dame of Montreal shopping streets the other day, Sainte-Catherine, to gaze upon Fashionably Late for a few delicious moments (yes we newbie novelists do that every once in a while… quite pathetic, I know), and lo and behold, but it wasn’t there! I was mad. This is my home town, after all.

But right there in front of the fiction titles shelved against the walls is the ‘Travel Lit’ section. And what do I see in between a book about adventures in Mexico and one in India, but Fashionably Late.

I am shelved in Travel Lit.

I don’t know why but that gives me the chills. Happy chills. Thrilled chills.

In between the few articles I wrote for Atmosphere Magazine (will post links to these soon) and Fashionably Late, it seems I’ve become a travel writer.

And I could not possibly be more thrilled. It’s the kind of vocation the universe gently nudges you toward because it knows what’s good for you, even if you don’t.

What does this have to do with the winter blues? It’s winter, it’s cold, dark and depressing, and I’m going to seriously regret upping my chocolate intake levels, so for me, the next best thing to running away to a wonderful, exciting place when my life is in a phase I’d like to skip over is to watch a movie or read a book where other people are running off to wonderful, exciting places and having the time of their lives.

In writing as in life, nothing jolts a ho-hum plot quite like a vacation. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite trip-lit. I’m sure there are lots more I’m forgetting about, so I’d love to hear what your favorites are.

The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club by Jessica Morrison – Recently fired 30-year-old self-described obsessive planner goes on a totally unscripted, unplanned trip to Argentina after catching her fiancé in bed with a hot cellist. Plot meanders a bit, but I learned lots about Argentina and was quite taken by Argentine hottie Mateo.

Burning the Map by Laura Caldwell – The first chick-lit-travel-lit I ever read and a big source of inspiration behind Fashionably Late. Three best friends head off to Rome and Greece just before the lead chick, Casey, is shackled to her first out-of-school job at a Chicago law firm. Caldwell is a great writer and turns what could be a predictable plot into a really fun adventure. Characters are very well drawn, and both Rome and the Greek isles sound like breathless fun.

Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – This book has gotten so much press already, and I am absolutely honored beyond belief that it comes up as a suggestion to customers who enjoyed Fashionably Late on It’s a travel memoir of a woman getting over a nasty divorce (pretty typical s far) across Italy, India, and Indonesia. It’s really the author’s style, humor and with that carry this book, and the fabulous sections in Italy and Bali. India was a bit lackluster as it focused on the author trying to achieve ‘inner peace’ in a high-profile Ashram, and could have been cut shorter, but I guess in the end this is a spiritual book that reads a lot like a fun, reckless, escapist, sexy novel, but it’s still mainly about teh quest for inner peace. It's the kind of spirituality an atheist like moi can have respect for. Reminds me a lot of Anne Lamot’s style.

• Under the Tuscan Sun (the movie) – Rent it when you’re feeling blue. Guaranteed to lift your spirits.

My Father the Hero (movie) – This is a mediocre Hollywood 1994 remake of an old French movie starring Gérard Dépardieu. I can’t say much about the plot as it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I’ll tell you this: the cinematography, the shots of the Bahamas were so stunning, they’ve stayed with me all these years. Time to rent it again, methinks….

Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana by Isadora Tatlin – The title is pretty self-explanatory. The author’s insights into daily Cuban life are fascinating even though we get a deep look at the small miseries of life in Havana mixed in with the author’s growing and strange attachment to the city. As someone who’s come into close contact with Havana and her locals, I can assure you the author gets it just right.

Something Blue by Emily Giffin – Not sure whether this really qualifies as travel lit as the protagonist only flies to gray, dreary London about a third of the way into the book when her baby daddy leaves her pregnant with twins and her ex-best-friend is about to fly off to Hawaii with her ex-fiancé on what was supposed to be her honeymoon, but this is a great example of spicing up a meandering plot with an exciting trip. I also went to London solo a few years back and it was really cool seeing the city through the character’s eyes.

Seven Sunny Days by Chris Manby – Set in a resort in Turkey, I would have loved to see the author delve into the culture provided by this unique setting, but she stuck to predictable, self-absorbed characters that epitomize the McTravel experience: sheltered behind the high walls of a gated resort where the only local you’re likely to run into is the one cleaning your toilet. Even the “local” love interests are French, not Turks. And yet….. if you accept that you are in a resort that might as well be in Mexico or Belize, Manby does a great job of making you feel like you’re right there with the three girls on a hen trip, the bickering couple, and the studly tennis pros. And to be honest, I’ll take a canned resort experience over February in Canada any day.

Anybody else have any suggestions out there?


Anonymous said...

Great post! I have a good travel movie to recommend, it's Motorcycle Diaries, about a young Che Guevara (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) who takes a trip across South America with a friend, a trip which turns out to be a pivotal point in Guevara's life, and changes him forever. The film is based on Guevara's actual diaries, which I've read in parts, very interesting!

Bride-to-Be said...

great post nadine! i'll be sure to see if virgin carries any of those here. i've been stuck in the first quarter of "reading lolita in tehran". i'm skidding through it. :(

as for my suggestions...have you heard of indu sundaresan? fantastic author of "the twentieth wife" and "feast of roses". set in mughal india, the first is the story of a girl who falls in the love with the emperor. follows the intricate stories of their lives. the second picks up where the first ended.

vivid writing, incredible plot and character development. i read feast of roses overnight. could NOT put it down.

i know you wanted travel lit, and this is historical, but what i LOVE about this is that you get the background on all the sites and cities in india today. the places are still there and described in their original beauty...and yes, the taj mahal's creation is part of the storyline. but because of this book, there are many places in india i will want to go to besides the taj.

definitely two of my faves. highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend them.

Marilyn Brant said...

Ooooh, I adored Eat, Pray, Love!
Here are a few others good travel books (some fiction some non):

--Chocolat by Joanne Harris (the book they based the Johnny Depp movie on)
--A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
--Without Reservations: Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach
--Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
--Burning the Map by Laura Caldwell

Marilyn Brant said...

Oops! Just realized you already knew about Burning the Map... Caldwell also wrote The Rome Affair, which has a travel element. And there are also a couple of Elizabeth Adler novels (one that takes place in Paris and another in Italy) that were fun travel lit books.
Oh! And you've probably seen the romantic comedy Only You (mostly takes place in Italy), but just in case...

Nadine said...

Paris - Those books sound great! I don't know if you've ever read "Empress of China" by Pearl Buck, but from the sounds of it, you'd probably love that one. I'm amazed by the the depth of the author's knowledge of China.

Nadine said...

I loved the Motorcycle Diaries. We always assume that the movie version of a book will never measure up to the novel, but in certain types of movies where the sense of place is important, where the scope and scale of geography is such an integral part of the story, movies seem to be able to do a better job than books. You don't need to read about what Che was thinking when he decided to go on his tour of South America and how it changed him - just one look at the poor migrant workers is worth a thousand words.

Nadine said...

Thanks for reminding me of Only You, Marylin! You're absolutely right... I can't remember any of the plot but I do remember positively aching to visit Italy after seeing that movie.

Bride-to-Be said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bride-to-Be said...

thanks nadine! i'm waddling through lolita. the book was suggested by a friend who promised it was awesome. i'm not liking it and don't know how it made it to print really. it's more "book review on lolita and humbert".

anyway...i just have this bad habit of forcing my way through even though i hate the book. i'm looking forward to putting it down and picking up your suggestion.