GUEST POST: Expand Your Horizons with Travel and Books About Travel by Kathleen Meyer and Mike O'Mary of LitNuts
First of all, thank you to Laura for having LitNuts as a guest—and for inviting us to talk about such an interesting topic: Memoirs... or more specifically, Travel Memoirs... or more specifically, Travel Memoirs about France! We’ll share some recommendations across each category.
Let me start with some credentials: It just so happens that prior to starting LitNuts, I ran an indie press called Dream of Things for 10+ years that focused on memoirs. We didn’t publish any travel memoirs per se, but we did produce a nice anthology of essays about travel called Be There Now, which you can see on the Dream of Things website along with some really wonderful memoirs.
Kathleen and I also have credentials in the form of actual travel. It’s funny... I never left the United States until I was in my 30s, but have since been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Spain and China, as well as all over the United States.
Kathleen started younger with a trip to Ireland at age 13, a trip to Europe with her high school orchestra, and a semester of college in Italy. She also visited London and Paris with me, had vacations in Mexico, and has returned to Italy to visit. On top of that, she currently does marketing for an international company, which occasionally takes her to Europe for trade shows and to visit headquarters.
Suffice it to say that we appreciate the value of travel. It really is a window into other worlds and cultures, and I think learning (or trying to learn, in my case) another language is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. Even just speaking a few phrases makes for a different level of engagement and a different experience when you are in another country.
I appreciate travel in literature, too. And so I read books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at least in part as a travelogue of the Mississippi River. I also highly recommend Shantyboat: A Riverboat Way of Life by Harlan Hubbard. He and his wife Anna built their own shantyboat (essentially, a “shanty” house on a raft that floats with the river current... no power), and floated down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the 1940s. They documented their trip, which was rich with history, folklore and tips on how to be self-sufficient, and became folk heroes for a whole generation of folks looking for an alternative way of life.
Other books that I regard as personal favorites: On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and more recently, A Walk in the Woods about hiking the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.
There are, of course, a whole slew of great travel books, some of which I’m sure you’ve read or seen as films: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, and A Year in Provence, Toujours Provence and Encore Provence by Peter Mayle.
Back to the value of travel more generally, Kathleen says that studying abroad is not something she thought she’d ever do. She was worried about being far from home, family and friends. But she did it and is thankful she did.
“It changed me and my life,” she says. “While I was there, I really learned to be independent and resourceful, including traveling alone for a week to Urbino, Perugia, Assisi, Naples and Pompeii. I’m still surprised I did it. I planned it all on my own, got around on the train by myself and was my own best company.”
Kathleen read Eat Pray Love before she went to Italy, and then went to the same pizza place in Naples mentioned in the book. (“Really good pizza,” she says.) And she did a lot of reading while traveling. In fact, she read all of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults while riding a train around Italy.
I want to close with a couple of recommendations specific to France and to Paris...
If you ever visit Reims and the Champagne region, which I highly recommend, read Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times by Don Kladstrup. Taking in the history of the region (including the fact that Attila the Hun camped near Reims with 700,000 troops in 451 A.D. before a bloody battle with the Romans and Gauls) makes a visit that much more fascinating.
Finally, a plug for Paris, by far my favorite city to visit. It’s made for getting around by foot and by Metro, and it’s full of history, literary and otherwise.
On one visit, Kathleen and I stayed at a small hotel in The Marais and visited Maison de Victor Hugo. On another visit, I rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter, a half block from Rue Mouffetard, the ancient cobblestone road from Paris to Rome, and a half block from Place de la Contrescarpe, famous as one of Ernest Hemingway’s hangouts—and still a lively gathering place most evenings.
On that particular visit, I picked up a copy of A Moveable Feast at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and read it in between long walks, similar to those Hemingway took and wrote about almost 100 years ago.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), little has changed in 100 years. The neighborhoods, parks, cafes and bars are pretty much the same as they were when Hemingway took his long walks. If you can get to Paris and take your own walk, by all means do so. If not, pick up a copy of A Moveable Feast and go on a virtual walk with a great writer as your guide.
All of that said, I’d love to hear from others. What are your favorite travel memoirs and travel books?
As a “thank you” for dropping by, here are a couple of parting gifts:
Further info on the WOW! WOMEN ON WRITING TOUR OF LitNuts.com
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LitNuts is a woman-owned, family-run business founded by Kathleen Meyer and her father, Mike O'Mary, who share a love of literature and reading. Kathleen is an avid reader with 10 years of marketing experience, including with Dream of Things, a small press founded by Mike in 2009. During its 10 year history, Dream of Things published three New York Times Best Sellers, three winners of the Hoffer Award, and one book that has been optioned for a film. Kathleen and Mike drew upon their experience of publishing and marketing books on a shoestring budget to create LitNuts, in the hope of helping other indie presses achieve success.
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