"A Year In The World"

A Year In The World by Frances Mayes

This is a very well written travel book, one of the best I've read. It's a little different in that the author has taken her experiences from various trips to different places over several years and strung them together to produce a narrative describing a year's worth of travel. Usually I want a book to let me stay in one place longer than this one does, but the writing is so good it's impossible not to love it.

Mayes totally immerses herself in the places she visits and the reader reaps the happy results. Her travel stories can make you feel you've been there yourself. She must do a lot of research or maybe she just knows a ridiculous amount about everything, because the book is full of information on the history, politics, culture, art, and literature of every destination. She talks with ease about their poets, novelists,  musicians, and artists. And she is remarkably observant, noticing and sharing small details of local people, buildings, food, flowers, and landscapes that make each place and person come alive.

Frances Mayes will remind you how fascinating the world is if you've forgotten. I confess to being more than a little envious. To travel the world staying in the smaller cities and towns must be such a rich experience. The Londons and Romes and Barcelonas of the world have their attractions, but to stay in places where you see how the everyday people of a place live - how they spend their mornings, afternoons and evenings, how they work and socialize and interact with each other - must be incredibly satisfying. 

It's apparent from the first page that this is an intelligent, educated author. I admit I found her vocabulary a little intimidating, but I kept the dictionary handy for words like obsidian, anneal, quotidian, dithyrambic (which even Microsoft Word didn't recognize), marmoreal, peripatetic, sybaritic and aphoristic. I tend to read too quickly most of time, but not with this book. Mayes' erudite writing forced me to slow down to get maximum enjoyment from the reading. I loved it from the first word to the last. 

The chapters I enjoyed most were on Italy, France, Greece, Scotland and England, not necessarily in that order. I also enjoyed, but am less intrigued by, Portugal, Fez and Turkey. I was absolutely smitten with Capri. It sounds like a dream.   

There are some nice maps printed on the insides of the covers. I spend an inordinate amout of time reading maps, looking up settings from books or places in the news, needing to know where they fit into the world, what countries or oceans border them. I get a bit obessive aboout it, but I need to know. Having maps in this book gave me the opportunity to see where the authour was taking me and I referred to them often.

Another thing I like about Mayes' travel stories is that she and her husband do a lot of their exploring on foot. I've long been convinced you can't really experience a place until you've walked it. Driving through a town you get a general impression, but when you walk it you get the details - the textures, sounds and smells that make it real. That intense sense of place is something she is able to share with her readers and it's very satisfying.

At times the author is critical of other tourists, and I understand that when you travel you don't want to find yourself always surrounded by your own countrymen. Of course you go to experience other cultures and people, but it does seem a bit smug to hold yourself superior to "other" tourists, even if you are more knowledgable about the place. You may appreciate different things or have a different travel "style", but live and let live I say. Travel and let travel.  

It's a great book, one I recommend to anyone with a passion for travel, even of the armchair variety.


Linda Vincent said...

Hi Dianne
Thank you so much for visiting my blog (I am intrigued to know how you found me!) I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading your blog and on the basis of your excellent reviews have just ordered '84 Charing Cross Road', 'A Year in the World' and 'My Life in France'.

I also thoroughly enjoyed 'A Year in Provence', 'September', 'Evening Class' and 'Under the Tuscan Sun'.

Have you read 'The Potters House' by Rosie Thomas and Hislops 'The Island'? I read the latter whilst lying by a pool with Spinalonga in my sights....I recommend it!
Best wishes

Ordinary Reader said...

Hi Linda. I found your blog by using the "next blog" button on blogspot. I am so excited about you ordering those books. It's a wonderful feeling to share my delight in a great book with someone else. I'm going to find copies of the one's you recommend as well. Wonderful to hear from you!

About Me said...

Dianne, thanks for stopping by my blog also. Cool blog you have here, nice reviews. I haven't read any travel books (shame on me, I know). I'm so busy reading and writing fiction. :)

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

I found your blog because I did a google blog search for reviews of this book. I'm so glad I did because it looks like we enjoy the same kind of books -- and sort of the same mix of old and new books. I am going to sign up as a follower as soon as I finish this comment.

Here is my review of this book on Rose City Reader.

Can I post a link to your review on my review post? I like to ask first. If it is OK with you, please leave a comment on my review with a link to yours and I will add it. (Sorry for the extra step, but I lose track of who I asked and forget to come back to see what your answer is -- a comment on my review send me an email notification.)

I'm going to go explore more of your blog now.

Oregon Kimm said...

This is one of my TBR's that has been sitting on the shelf for quite a while now. Reading your post reminds me of how I really do need to get to it. I love travel writing! The last one I read was a while ago: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. It was a pretty fair read.

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