Wanderlust, edited by Don George

Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance
Don George, ed., at Salon.com
(Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto: 2000)

READ: December 2004-April 2005

Randal gave me this for my birthday last year. I started reading it over Christmas and then promptly forgot to bring it home from Winnipeg, where we were over the holidays. Thankfully, Randal's dad was nice enough to carefully wrap it up and pop it in the mail - I believe I got it back sometime in February.

And I was glad - it's a nice read. It's a series of stories of things that have happened to various travel writers, most (if not all) of whom have previously written for Salon.com's online literary travel journal. I took my time reading it once I got back, usually limiting myself to one story a night, since it was quite enjoyable for the most part.

Some of the stories are lovely and magical - like the woman who finds peace sleeping beach-side on a small Greek island. Others are funny, some are meant to provoke. The only one that I remember leaving a distinctly bad taste in my mouth was based on a southern Thailand beach - a promising start! - but focussed on the author's obsession with catching up with Leonardo diCaprio who was also in the south of Thailand filming, apparently, The Beach. It was really long, really shallow, and really dull. But by and large, the stories here captivated me or at least interested me enough to keep going. It's a nice way to "travel" when you can afford neither time nor money to actually do so.

A Little Taste of ... Japan by Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson

A Little Taste of... Japan
Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson
(Bay Books: 2004)

READ: March-April 2005

OK, I admit it up front: this is a cookbook. But it's quite lovely. In-between the many and varied traditional Japanese recipes are pages of information on Japanese culture, history, religion, geography, etc. I must admit to being a bit of a Japan-o-phile, and there is certainly much in here to keep me going for a while. It's been too hot to do any adventurous cooking this summer, but I plan on testing many exotic recipes from my many cookbooks as soon as the weather cools down, including a number from here (for example, rice soup, simmered pumpkin, and asparagus with egg yolk sauce - and sushi, of course). The recipes are by Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson has provided the complementary texts. Also (and this is very important in a cookbook, and all too often overlooked), it has beautiful accompanying photographs (both of the food and of Japan).

The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide)

The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide), 2nd ed.
Jeremy Gray and Reuben Acciano
(Lonely Planet Publications, Oakland (CA): 2004)

READ: March-April 2005

Yes, everyone and their brother uses Lonely Planet guides. But there's a good reason. I am a big fan. For the most part, they are well laid-out, have easy-to-use maps, and give you good starting points for restaurants, accommodations, etc. I think the problem arises when people fail to look outside their Lonely Planet. Or when - and it happens - a restaurant or hotel gets complacent about its appearance in the Lonely Planet and lets its quality slip. But I see guidebooks as a great way to start. They are a great way to get you started in a new country, a way to figure out the key first things to see and do. But you must also let serendipity guide you, at least some of the time.

The Netherlands Lonely Planet guide provides a very good introduction to the Netherlands and Dutch culture. I read this, of course, in anticipation of our trip to Amsterdam in May. At the time, this meant I read all of the introductory material, including cycling trips around the Netherlands, as well as the lengthy entry on Amsterdam itself and the shorter (but still quite detailed) entries on Den Haag (The Hague), Rotterdam and Maastricht, all of which we planned to go to but never made it, since there is so much to do in Amsterdam itself.

The trip was, of course, more enjoyable than the book, but that certainly isn't a reflection on the quality of this book - I wouldn't leave home without it.

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto
(Grove Press, New York: 2000)
Japanese version originally published 1989
Translated by Michael Emmerich

READ: March-April 2005

OK, I admit it. I initially bought this book because I kept seeing it in the deeply-discounted Bargain Books section every time I went to Chapters (which is probably more often than I should go). And I think "Banana Yoshimoto" is one of the coolest names an author could ever wish to have. So I bought it.

I have since learned that Yoshimoto is in fact one of Japan's better-known contemporary writers. And Asleep is in fact a lovely book. It's a bit strange. As a translation, and from Japanese no less, where the pace of story-telling can be different from what readers are used to (at least readers like me, who perhaps overdose on Canadian literature now and again (though reviewing my book list of books read-to-date, I seem to be expanding those horizons this year)), the book feels slightly magical and other-worldly (though again, if you've ever been to Japan, that assessment isn't too far off the mark). In a way, speaking of Can-lit, Yoshimoto reminds me of Alice Munro (at least in the earlier days before I realized I was confusing Munro's books because they all dealt with women in unusual or awkward situations).

Asleep actually is three novellas about three very different women who have strange spiritual connections to sleep and all that it entails. And here I unashamedly steal from the jacket dust-cover: "One, mourning for a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by another woman whom she was once pitted against in a love triangle." There is a dreamy quality to the book itself - you could almost be reading some form of long poem. I took my time with this book, not wanting to spoil its sometimes near-perfect balance, but often was compelled to read "just a few more pages" to see what would happen next.

Yoshimoto has written a few other books which have been translated from the Japanese; of these, I think Kitchen will be the next one I search out (even if it isn't available on discount.