Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught (When I Teach) Contemporary Travel Literature 101

Top Ten Tuesday:

Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught (When I Teach) Contemporary Travel Literature 101

toptentuesday(Brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish)

What a fitting topic as I head back to school in less than a week! As I am looking down the long (and yet, in some ways, not long enough) tunnel of writing my thesis on contemporary travel literature this term, thoughts of what I would teach in a course like this are rattling around my brain. The genre is huge and there are so many directions a professor could take, but since this imaginary course is a “101,” I think overview is the way to go!

I had to whittle this list down two different times, as I couldn’t decide which books would be best for an overview course. There are so many great options and routes that could be taken. If I actually taught this course, I may end up doing a handful of assigned books and then requiring students to choose one or two individually and then present them to the class. How else do you cover so much material?!

(As always, my list is presented in alphabetical order. )

Bird of Life, Bird of Death by Johnathan Evan Maslow- This is one of the oldest books on the list, written in the mid- 80s, but I like the way Maslow mixes ecology, politics, history and mythology into his travelogue of his search for the quetzal bird in Guatemala. While some authors are very inward focused in their journeys, Maslow takes a different view, leaving himself out of the equation and focusing on the trip and its background.

Blood River by Tim Butcher– Also a great travelogue that focuses on history and culture, Butcher’s book includes more personal tales and takes a decidedly more inward-view of his travels. We learn as much about the author as we do the Congo in this example of contemporary travel writing.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – A great look at travel in the United States. Often, when we think of travel, we think of far-flung locales, but Heat-Moon has created a beautiful reflection of “off the beaten path” USA.

Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell – Returned Peace Corps volunteers are a staple of the travel writing genre and any course on the topic has to have at least one. (While Bissell did not complete his service in Uzbekistan, his seven months in-country were the basis for why he returned and wrote his book.) While the stated topic of the book is the disappearing Aral Sea, the bulk of this travelogue is more about Bissell returning to the place where he previously struggled, tying up loose ends and making connections he missed out on the first time around.

Looking for Lovedu by Ann Jones- Another book based in Africa, but this time from a woman’s point of view and with an extremely different goal. While Butcher is retracing the steps of a famed journalist, Jones is searching for a matriarchal tribe based in southern Africa, but decides to traverse the continent from north to south on the way there.

The Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing by Tim Youngs- Since we are talking about a college course, having some theory and background in travel writing is key to fully understanding the genre. Rather than just reading travelogue after travelogue, a discussion of the history and literary past is key. Youngs book is a perfect introduction to the genre.

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux- No course in contemporary travel writing would be complete without a taste of Theroux!

Tourists with Typewriters by Patrick Holland –Another book of theory on the travel writing genre, Holland takes a critical look at where the genre has been and what the future holds for it. He brings up important topics such as imperialism and privilege within the genre- topics that are a necessary part of any academic discussion of contemporary travel writing.

Travel Writing by Carl Thompson- This would be the *first* book my students read as a part of a course on travel writing. Thompson breaks down where the genre has been and the basic literary theory that makes up the foundations of academic study, but does so in a very digestible way. I would consider this a must-read for an academic course on this genre.

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier- Frazier’s travelogue is long, but worth the read for students, not only because his book deals with a different region than all of the others on the list, but because he does a great job of tying together the personal narrative/memoir aspect of the genre with historical and political background of the places he travels.

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Tea with Tales and Tails

Three weeks in Idaho were not just filled with gun ranges, rodeos and county fairs (see those stories here!); it had a softer side was well. In between picking up casings and stepping over piles of farm animal poo, I squeezed in a bit of “girl-time.”

My best friend, who has a fantastic new job as a traveling nurse (I must admit to not totally understanding the logistics of the program, but love the fact that if we got posted to DC next, there is a chance she could take a gig on the East Coast and we could be neighbors for a few months) flew up to BOI to spend a few days of what turned out to be non-stop chatter and catching up. As we yakked endless with stories of her new job and my new home, we did find time to do a bit of shopping and not just any old shopping, but shopping with a mission- a Marine Ball dress! She and her husband are going to be in KL this fall, arriving just in time for the annual gala, so a fancy new dress was on the “to do” list. After wandering through the mall and surrounding shops, trying on shimmering dress after glittery dress, she eventually settled on a gorgeous navy blue gown that is going to be perfect for the ball. So pretty!

BFF dress shopping was at the start of my time home, but not content to get away with just one major shopping excursion, I book-ended my vacation with another (bigger!) outing at the very end. This one was with my older sister and two nieces, who needed new outfits for their trip to Washington DC. My sister won a national STEM teacher of the year award and as part of her prize package (yes, there was a whole package!) she got to go to the White House to meet the president and she figured the clothes hanging in her closet weren’t quite White House-worthy, so back to the mall we went! This time we were in search of a couple nice dresses for her various events, as well as for the girls who were invited to the awards reception.  After an entire day at the mall, I think they walked out with six dresses (two each), three pairs of shoes and enough accessories to have everyone sparkling just right.  I do think I created a monster though when I introduced the idea of “holding” a dress while you look at other shops. I don’t think this was on either of their radars and suddenly, tough delicious about which dress to pick were put on the back burner so we could continue to pursue the mall. Put all the dresses on “hold!” In the end, everyone came out looking fantastic. Another successful styling/shopping trip in the books!

Girl-time wasn’t all filled with swipes of the credit card though (luckily most of these were not mine!), as I did get to participate in this year’s annual teddy bear tea party, hosted by my mom for the little girls. This year’s theme was “Tea with Tales and Tails.” We invited the two youngest girls (first and second grade), who were each requested to bring along a favorite tale and tail. Both girls came bearing fantastic picture books and a fuzzy stuffed friend. After hauling out piles of animals from Grandma’s teddy bear stashes, we were ready for our tea party.  A few rounds of “crazy apes” (the dollar store version of crazy 8s), we were warmed up and ready for a lunch of Uncrustables and bananas with pink lemonade to wash it all down. This tasty meal for four was accompanied by everyone reading their favorite book from the pile. Our lovely tea party wrapped up with brand new coloring books and crayons for the littles, which were promptly opened and a fantastic session of coloring commenced.

Looking back, my three weeks in Idaho were actually a well-balanced calendar of “Idaho!” and girly-girl time. Guns were shot. Dresses were bought. Cowboys were thrown from bulls. Picture books were read just in time for back to school. Take a bit of this plus a bit of that, throw them together and you get the fixings of an All-American hometown vacation.

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Idaho friends, don’t pass up this chance to check out a great activity in Boise in just over a week. The email below is from the event’s most-magnificent organizer, long-time friend and one of our regular overseas couch-surfers, Josh.

Be there or be square!


There are only nine days until the 3rd Annual Library Comic Con arrives on Aug. 29th! Excited? Terrified? Wholly indifferent? Too full of competing emotions to have a clear idea of what you’re feeling? Maybe this email will help.

First, I’d like to share a few new things that we’re trying out for this year’s event:

  • The Friends of the Library will be selling a specially commissioned commemorative LCC15 poster during the con. The artwork is by local creator Adam Rosenlund Adam has also recently designed a traffic box wrap for the city, which will be installed either later this year, or next summer. The Friend’s poster will be 13×19, printed on nice paper stock, limited to 250 copies, and sold for $10.
  • To really spruce the place up this year, several team members, with the help of our wonderful pages, constructed post-it note artwork, some of which will be involved in a Super Mario themed scavenger hunt. Wonder Woman was completed yesterday, and is currently guarding the Artist’s Alley.
  • Local artist Jim Sumii is in the process of constructing a “Pikture Booth” where, for a small donation, he will draw caricatures of passersby. He plans to donate all proceeds to the Friends.

Additionally, we’ll be bringing 14 amazing special guests to Boise, including Nate Powell, Steve Lieber, Emi Lenox, Farel Dalrymple, Joëlle Jones, and many more. You can read about all of our LCC creators here:

There will be three food/drink vendors: Fanci Freez, Pie Hole, and St(r)eam Coffee. The 501st Legion will be attending all day (Stormtroopers!), as will the R2D2 Builders group, with at least three, life sized droids. Why hasn’t there previously been any LARPing, you say? What is this LARPing thing, you say? It’s Live Action Role Play, and it’ll be happening this year! There will be a Zombie Walk, (no, I’m not just talking about the staff at the end of the day). Need to know how to make a wand? Don’t worry, Dave Ultis from Citizen Scientific Workshop has you covered!

This is the website for LCC15, which has more information as well as specific times for events. And if anyone would like to share this information with friends, family, random people on the street, that neighbor that keeps complaining about your lawn, your child’s harried school teacher, the local fishmonger, or just on your own social media, please feel free. We even have a hashtag to use this year: #BPLComiccon15, because we’re fancy like that!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Of Your Auto-buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Of Your Auto-buy Authors

toptentuesday(Sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish)

Yes, there are authors whose books I buy, sight-unseen. I don’t need to read a review or cover blurb. If these folks have books coming out, they are usually preordered and ready to be shipped/downloaded as soon as they become available. It’s quite an eclectic list, from narrative non-fiction works to fluffy reads for my many airplane trips. I’ve put them in alphabetical order because it is easier than trying to rank each one, but I would definitely put Erik Larson at the very top of the list if I were to number them 1-10.

Bill Bryson- I read first read A Walk in the Woods on a road trip. Thad drove. I read. We laughed out loud at many of the predicaments he found himself in and we were grateful for semi-soft hotel beds each night as we followed his tale of woe and discomfort on the Eastern Seaboard. I’m a little dismayed to hear about a movie coming out, but I usually am when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. After A Walk in the Woods I was hooked and have read nearly everything else he has published. Always entertaining!

David Sedaris- I love Sedaris’ outlook on the world. At times it can be a bit harsh (I remember a particular short story about China that I thought was a little rougher on the country than it needed to be), but overall his slightly bitter, slightly sardonic wit keeps me coming back for more.

Erik Larson – This is my number one when it comes to auto-buy authors. Larson is the author who drew me in to narrative non-fiction nearly a decade ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I started with Devil in the White City and then proceeded to read through his entire library. While I didn’t absolutely love each one (I found Thunderstruck quite baffling), I do love his style of weaving several tales into a single story. I can’t wait for his next publication!

Jodi Piccoult- This is my fluff-pick on the list. When Piccoult first started publishing, I loved her works and bought each one the day it came out, but then after a few, the twist at the end became predictable, so I quit reading them for a while. I had to walk away. But, in the last year or so, I’ve jumped back on the bandwagon, caught up on the missed novels and am ready for a new one. These books have ended up being the perfect reads for long trans-Pacific flights from the US to Malaysia.

John Green- He’s definitely the go-to author in the YA world right now, but he’s more than a flash in the pan. He is able to mix tough topics with an inviting writing style that draws in not only the teenage crowd, but also those of us who have a few more candles on our cakes. Again, I haven’t *loved* every single one of his books, but that doesn’t stop me from picking up his latest publication as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Khaled Hosseini – Hosseini comes close to the top of my must-purchase author list. I have loved all three of his novels and will gladly pay hardback prices to get my hands on his next book as soon as it comes out. His characters and tales are haunting, sticking with me long after the last page has been turned. Please tell me there is something from him on the horizon!

Liane Moriarty- This is my other go-to for plane reading.  Moriarty’s thrillers of mystery and intrigue are the perfect fit for a fourteen-hour flight. They don’t take huge amounts of concentration, so when the dude next to me is snoring his way through Avengers, I can still enjoy flipping through the pages of her latest twisting plot.

Mindy Kaling- Does it count if she only has one book out? I don’t care. I loved her first and am hoping she follows it up with another. Soon.

Sarah Vowell – Another great narrative non-fiction author, Vowel is a master storyteller, drawing me in to topics I wouldn’t normally imagine myself interested in. I love that about her. Ask me if I have a deep desire to read about presidential assassinations and  I will probably tell you no, but then give me the first few pages of Assassination Vacation and I am hooked.

Wally Lamb- You need time if you’ve got a Wally Lamb book on your hands. They are never quick nor easy reads, but they are powerful and thought-provoking. Lamb’s ability to tackle tough topics in a sensitive manner is admirable and while his books often portray situations that are painful to contemplate, they are also a part of the world in which we live. He doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations and I will always buy whatever he puts out next.

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“What I Did on My Summer Vacation”

“What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” The much dreaded first essay of a new school year is a perfect fit as we wrap up Summer 2015. In school, this is where your English teacher gets a sneak peak of your writing skills. Can he use punctuation correctly? Does she know the difference between their/there/they’re? Has he figured out that paragraphs really are the go-to structure for an essay and that indentation is more than a passing fad? These are all the things your teacher is making mental notes of while you squirm and try to finagle a summer of video games and sunbathing into an essay that makes it sound like you read the complete works of Toni Morrison and spent your free time perusing the artifacts of the Smithsonian.

Although it has been years since I had to write such an essay, it is a perfect theme for my return to the blogging world. (Again, if you read the previous post, I blame my month of silence on a combination of vacation, Secretary Kerry and a bit of laziness.) Three weeks of my summer were spent back in Idaho, and what an “Idaho” vacation it was. Between a trip to the gun range, a night at the rodeo and visit to the county fair, I pretty much fell right back into the rural lifestyle with which I was raised.

Now, the gun range is not on my normal “to do” list. As a matter of fact, I’d only ever shot a gun once before this summer’s trip, but when it came up as a possibility, I was all over it! What’s not to love about pinging metal targets and shooting clay pigeons? Between the rifles, revolvers and pistols, we had a pretty good assortment of hardware for our morning outing. I do have to say though, I think I am much more of a pistol kind of girl than a rifle one. That rifle tried to knock me on my ass more than once and left a nice little sore spot on my shoulder. While we had our tiny arsenal to play with, I think the guys up a few spots from us at the range brought the militia. I have no idea what they were shooting with, but I’m going to take an uneducated guess and say rocket launchers and tanks!

The gun range outing was followed up, just a few days later, by a trip to the annual Snake River Stampede. This year was the 100th anniversary of the Stampede, so the turnout was great. A packed house! Events kicked off early with mutton busting and then headed right into full-blown patriotism with giant flags hauled around the arena by pretty girls on the back of prettier horses. (For those of you unaccustomed to the rodeo circuit, mutton busting is how dads break in baby cowboys. Little kids, think four and five year olds, are placed on the back of sheep who then haul mutton-butt across the arena, trying to rid themselves of the forty pound monkeys on their backs. This usually ends with a toddler face-first in the dirt and a happy sheep doing what they do best- huddling with the rest of its herd. I am not sure how much little kids actually enjoy this event, but for the spectators, it is hilarious!) Between bronc riding, roping and bull riding, the evening was a success- more so for the livestock than the riders, but a success nonetheless.

And, of course, any summer in small-town America is not complete without a trip to the county fair. Being the thrifty family that we are, we opted to go on “free” day- the first day of the fair. We got there right at lunchtime so we could enjoy the wonders of fair food (although, I was hugely disappointed to not get my brick of fries that is my normal go-to choice at the Western Idaho Fair) and then it was into the exhibit hall to check out the entries and 4-H projects. (As a former 4-H-er myself, I understand the last minute struggle to get those portfolios in tip-top shape just days before they are due.) I was excited to see that my 14-year old niece won several ribbons for her artwork (including a grand champion!)and her 10-year old brother got a ribbon for his woodwork piece. From there it was out to see the stars of the show- the animals! I was bummed to see that there is no longer a llama 4-H club in the area, but did enjoy looking at the cows, goats, rabbits and, of course, my favorite- the pigs. It was a hot (but not Malaysia-sticky!) day, so a few hours of wandering the fairgrounds were enough for our entire entourage. I skipped the carnival part of the fair, as I am already terrified by most rides to begin with and then you add in the fact that they were just pieced together that morning by a few sleep-deprived carnies and I will have to take a pass. How easy would it be to lose a crucial screw in the grass, misplace a necessary nut or just botch the thing in general? No thanks!

Summer 2015. It was as “Idaho” as one can get, and yet it was also just about perfect. My three weeks back Stateside were filled with family and friends, which are the things we miss most as we hop around the world from country to count every couple of years. Being home was a nice break and makes me look forward to December- our first Christmas home in almost five years! With summer quickly fading in the rear view mirror, it is time to buckle down at work (VIP visits), with school (a thesis) and personally (TLC for the blog). Ready…set…go!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Recently Acquired Books

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Recently Acquired Books

(Brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish)


I’m very behind on everything blog-related these days. Blame summer vacation and Secretary of State John Kerry. And a bit of my own laziness.  But, with my trip home in the rearview mirror, Kerry being wheels-up and the start of a new (and my last!) term staring me down, it is time to get back in the writing saddle. I missed a handful of Top Ten Tuesdays while I was on my mini-hiatus, so as I get back in the flow, I’ve decided to start with a topic that came up in July that I liked, rather than jumping in on this week’s theme.  I’ve gone through quite a few books this summer, so without further ado, I’m back to blogging with my ten most recently acquired books!

(In order of acquisition)

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet- Purchased- e-book.  I just started this one on Sunday, but have to admit to a bit of annoyance with Amazon. The e-book price was actually $.90 more expensive than the hardcover edition. How does that make any sense?

Penguins with People Problems by Mary Laura Philpott– Borrowed from Boise Public Library- e-book. Dorky and hilarious. This is my kind of humor.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten- Borrowed from Boise Public Library- e-book. Great new YA novel about students coping with OCD.

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya- Borrowed from Boise Public Library- e-book. I’m very glad this was a borrow and not a purchase. I was less than impressed with it, although going into it I really wanted to like it. I wanted it to be like Americanah, but the characters just didn’t resonate in the same way.

Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka by Adele Barker- Purchased- hardback, used. Interesting look at Sri Lanka both before and after the tsunami, including a lot of history and political background.

The Miracle Girl by Andrew Roe- Borrowed from Boise Public Library- e-book. I loved the premises of this book, that a young girl whose body was destroyed in a car accident, is now a receptacle of miracles and healing. There is a lot of potential with this plot, but I was disappointed in the execution. I would have liked to delve into that spiritual mystery side more than the author did.

Destination Saigon by Walter Mason-  Purchased- paperback, used. Great travelogue of Mason’s time in Vietnam. Both entertaining and informative, this is a fun read for anyone headed to SE Asia.

Looking for Lovedu: Days and Nights in Africa by Ann Jones- Purchased- hardback, used. A literary travelogue of Jones’ trip from England to the Southern reaches of Africa. I must admit a bias to this book, as it will be one of the four that serve as the backbone of my master’s thesis this fall.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen- Borrowed- Caldwell Public Library, hardback I picked up this YA novel when I was home for a few weeks of summer vacation. It was recommended to me by my niece, who even went to the library to pick me up a copy! This is a great YA novel about a young man dealing with the fallout of bullying and the terrible actions of his older brother.

Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell- Purchased-paperback, used. Another travelogue. (My blog and life have been heavy on these for the last year.) This one follows a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who returns to the country of his service (which was cut short after just seven months). It is heavy on both a personal journey, as well as history and political background on Uzbekistan.

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