"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 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 else she just knows a ridiculous amount about everything, because she pours out information on the history and politics, the culture, and the art and literature of every destination. She is familiar with the poets, the novelists, the musicians and the artists. She is remarkably observant, seeing and sharing minute details that make every place and person come alive. Her descriptions of the local people, buildings, food, flowers and landscapes provide a wealth of information that satisfies this travel reader's need to know.

Frances Mayes can 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, their afternoons, their evenings, how they work, socialize and interact with each other must be incredibly satisfying. She makes me want to see what she's seeing and hear what she's hearing. I am enormously grateful that Mayes and other authors like her are willing to turn their travel journals into books so the rest of us can jaunt around the world vicariously through them.

It's obvious from the first page that the author is both intelligent and well educated; that's part of what makes reading her books such a pleasure. She has a somewhat intimidating vocabulary. I kept the dictionary handy for words like obsidian, anneal, quotidian, dithyrambic (which even my word processor didn't recognize), marmoreal, peripatetic, sybaritic and aphoristic. I tend to read too quickly most of time (particularly with novels) but not with this book. Mayes' astute writing forced me to slow down and get maximum enjoyment from the reading. I loved it from the first word to the last. 

I was surprised (disappointed in myself maybe?) to find there are places in the world that don't appeal to me as much as others. I always thought I'd go anywhere given the chance, and I think I still would, but reading this I found there are some places that I don't find inviting at all. I should look more closely at the reasons for that, but I don't want to. 

The chapters I enjoyed most were about 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. If you can fall in love with a place just by reading about it, then I'm in love. I want to be there, so I'm going to do some online research, check out hotels and restaurants and plan a Capri vacation. I may never actually go but it doesn't matter because there's enormous fun in the planning.

I love the maps on the insides of the covers. When I plan my imaginary vacations, I spend a lot of time reading maps. I need to know where a place fits into the world, how it relates to the land masses and bodies of water that surround it. I love to study the layout of cities and figure out how the streets lie in relation to one another. Having maps in the book gave me the opportunity to see where the authour was taking me and I referred to them frequently.

Frances and Ed Mayes set aside part of every (or nearly every) trip in this book for reading, napping or doing nothing at all. When I'm in a new place I feel driven to cover as many miles as I can to see as much as possible in the time I have, but I love the idea of taking the time to relax and just be there for awhile. I'd like to try it, but I'm afraid my brain would torture me the whole time with how much I'm missing because of this day off.

Something else I love about Mayes' travel stories is that she and her husband do a lot of their exploring on foot. You can't really know a place until you've walked it. When you drive through you a town you get a general impression; when you walk it you get the details, the textures, sounds and smells that make it real. It's how you find out what life feels like there and that intense sense of place is something she is able to give the reader. It's very satisfying.

At times the authour is a bit critical of other tourists. Of course you don't want to travel just to find at your destination that you're surrounded by people from your own country. You travel to experience a foreign culture, to hear their language, to meet their people. I think it's a bit smug though to consider yourself superior to "other" tourists. You may know more, you may appreciate different things, you may have a different style, but the fact remains that you too are just another visitor in this place, a tourist by definition.

I loved this book and will read it again I'm sure. I'd recommend it to anyone who has a passion for travel. You will not be disappointed.


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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