Travel Books, Part Two: Not-So-Favorite Ones

A follow-up to my popular post, Travel Books.

Here are some travel books that just didn’t do it for me.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
In this memoir of her buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Frances Mayes reveals the sensual pleasure she found living in rural Italy, and the generous spirit she brought with her.

Holy shit, did I hate this book. I’m sure she is a lovely woman, and I’m sure her home is lovely as well. But I could not get over how ridiculously condescending she was when describing her interactions with Italians and the Italian culture. She infuriated me.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author, in her early 30s, divides a year equally among three dissimilar countries, exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence.

This book is actually fine, and quite entertaining. I am truly sorry that her life fell apart, and I am truly happy that she found peace and a solid love. However, I disliked it for two intensely personal reasons:

1. Her time in Italy. That’s supposed to be my book. Now everyone will think I wrote my book after she wrote hers, trying to ride her coattails all the way to Oprah.

2. The means with which she lived this exploratory year were given to her in the form of an advance to write about the trip she was taking with that money. You know what? Give me an account full of cash and a year to go explore the world, and I’ll give you a great book, too.

Spanish Lessons by Derek Lambert
British journalist Lambert and his Canadian wife, Diane, find just the right place when they visit La Jara, an unassuming Spanish village inland from the Mediterranean shore of Costa Blanca.

This book combined the worst elements of everything I hate about fellow travelers and travel writing: The smug sense of entitlement; the condescending tone when describing the host country and its citizens; the sense that every moment is dripping in poetic opportunity; everything, everything.

I think that’s it. I haven’t read a ton of travel writing, and I’m fortunate to have loved most of what I have read. Even in this list, I only really hated two of the three.

4 thoughts on “Travel Books, Part Two: Not-So-Favorite Ones

  1. Pingback: Fun With Blog Stats « Miss Expatria

  2. I think the condescending tone is built into the genre and is very hard to avoid. Most travel books boil down to: I was really bored/unhappy/restless at home so I went to this extraordinary place and met all these extraordinary people who lived in such funny houses and did such funny things. They were so unlike us because they were foreign. And then I came home and felt better/sad.

    This particularly afflicts the English who seem to think that foreigners are just having them on and only speak in tongues to be annoying. They could understand us quite easily if they tried. Americans come a close second. But their take seems to involve an effort to be charmed by the foreigns no matter how intractable or eccentric they are. An attitude that the English think betrays a weakness of character. Mind you, I’ve no idea about foreign travel writers writing about us because that wouldn’t make sense. We are the way the rest of the world should be. And could be if it tried.

    Good luck with yours. I think Paul Theroux does it well but he has the focus of making a journey so, while he is writing about foreignness, there is a narrative. The narrative of buying a house and doing it up seems intrinsically condescending. It boils down to yarns about plumbing.

    See you at CP.

  3. Stephen, I agree – and with my English friends, let me tell you about the looks I get when I lump in the English in my opinions about foreigners in foreign lands!

    I agree with you and it’s why I’m changing the tack of my book, in terms of marketing it. I was trying to go for a chick-lit travel thing – but that’s not me. I had a dream to move to Italy, I researched and learned and planned, and with a lot of work, I got there – and I think that that in the end will be more interesting than some chick who dumped a guy and went searching for her soul.

  4. Pingback: Scathing Movie Review: Under the Tuscan Sun « Miss Expatria

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