Porter Fox spent three years exploring the northern border of the lower forty-eight states with Canada. Raised in Maine, he begins in the waters off the coast of Maine and travels the 4,000 mile border by canoe, freighter, car, and on foot. Along the way to the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, he describes the scenery and history of the border region, and talks with many of the border residents, border patrol agents, and visits the Standing Rock pipeline protestors in North Dakota. Some border residents have been used to commuting across the border for work, school, or shopping and are finding the border harder to cross in recent years. Some of the most interesting chapters were a freighter voyage across four of the Great Lakes and canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. I found this book to be a good mix of history, scenery, and armchair travel.
Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious by Seth Kugel
I enjoyed reading stories about Seth Kugel’s travel adventures, and learned some useful advice for future travel. He wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times for several years, and speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and some French. His suggestions are to spend more time in fewer places, to skip top attractions if they don’t really appeal to you, get suggestions from locals and fellow travelers, save some time on your trip for spontaneity, and try to be in the moment, not staring at your phone. Be skeptical of reviews and don’t spend more money than you need to for an enjoyable vacation. Many interesting anecdotes make for a quick read; suggested for armchair travelers and global explorers.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Hilarious, touching, and wistful, this novel unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Arthur Less, almost 50, is a minor novelist, occasional teacher, and very appealing company. Avoiding both his birthday and the wedding of his younger lover Freddy, Arthur accepts invitations to travel for an interview, an award ceremony, a retreat, a teaching assignment, and as a food critic in order to get away. With his beautifully tailored blue suit, Arthur visits New York City, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Paris, Morocco, southern India, and Kyoto, Japan. There are some funny travel mishaps, and he’s far from being as fluent in German as he believes. Arthur thinks that most of these invitations come from his association with an older, award-winning poet, and has a humble opinion of his own talents, especially as his current manuscript needs major revisions. A truly charming story, this novel is an enjoyable, rewarding read.
Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh
Finally, a feel-good novel perfect for summer reading. Set in England, Paris, Monaco and Italy, it’s also great for armchair travelers. Tim Gandy is feeling overlooked. At 55, he’s facing early retirement and must admit that his marriage to Isobel is rather blah. He’s close to only one of his three children, although Rosie is pregnant, so there’s happily a grandchild in his future. Tim has always dreamed of traveling in Europe, and Rosie encourages him to make his Grand Tour, even without Isobel, who dislikes travel. Despite feeling a bit guilty indulging himself, he’s off to Paris. Sketching at Versailles, he meets Francine, a gallery owner, who fascinates him. In Monaco, he meets Archie, a young yacht salesman, and poses as a consultant in a very funny scene aboard a superyacht. Afterwards, Archie takes him to meet his Aunt Rosamund, an elderly novelist who give Tim some good advice. The author is known in Great Britain for his gardening books and television shows, and does an excellent job with the gorgeous scenery and giving the story a strong sense of place. The characters are appealing, the story is not too predictable, and it’s quite charming. Perfect escapist reading, although it may make you long to escape to the Riviera, Paris, or Italy for a stroll in a garden or to enjoy a fabulous meal.
Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.
Patagonian Road: A Year Alone Through Latin America by Kate McCahill
Kate McCahill brings the reader along on her yearlong journey through Central and South America, roughly following by bus the journey Paul Theroux made decades earlier by train. She gets a writing fellowship that pays for Spanish lessons, rooms in hostels, food, and travel. Kate also volunteers as an English teacher in a couple of villages and in Buenos Aires. She misses her lover and her Finnish grandmother, shares her joys and fears, and tries to immerse herself in the local culture, although she’ll always be a traveler, not a local. While readers of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild may enjoy this book, I think closer readalikes are Wild by Nature, by Sarah Marquis, and Jodi Ettenberg’s blog, Legal Nomads. I enjoyed the occasionally lyrical writing, descriptive without being wordy, and McCahill’s willingness to share her experiences and feelings with the reader.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
This is an entertaining and informative tour of our far-flung territories and commonwealths, some nearly forgotten. Travel writer Doug Mack visits St. Thomas & St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. While these islands are all part of the United States, their residents don’t have the same rights as residents of the fifty states, and these vary from territory to territory. Tourism and the U.S. military are major employers. From native islanders, Danes, and Japanese, Mack learns about each area’s history and listens to the debates about their futures, all while enjoying good company and some excellent food. An enjoyable and thought-provoking tour of some overlooked parts of America.