Tag Archives: travel

#AmtrakResidency Politics Makes Me Laugh

19 Mar

Amtrak-01-800x482-235x141

During my lunchtime reads, this headline, via Poets & Writers, made me laugh:

“Republicans Denounce Amtrak Residency”

The link round-up led to The Atlantic’s article “Shocker: Conservative Republicans Hate the Amtrak Writer Residency.

I’m not one to blog politics, but I will talk copywriting: these two headlines grabbed my attention and made me actually laugh out loud. It sounded like an Onion article! I kind of love the fact that they’re so outlandish and made me think about politics and the media.

Are some Republicans seriously against writers getting to use a seat that would’ve otherwise gone empty on a train? Of all the things going on in the world, is Amtrak’s residency really worth the political hubbub? Did the “liberal media” exaggerate and twist what Republican senators actually said? Are the senators’ concerns that the taxpaying public has subsidized Amtrak services with $1.5 billion and yet are giving away free tickets legitimate? Should the government help fund writers and those in the arts as a means toward furthering our cultural heritage?

When the Amtrak Writers Residency was announced a few weeks ago, friends came out of the wood works to urge me to apply. After all, writing and being on the road is my literary jam.

Then the official application was released. Thousands of people applied. And, I started hearing murmurs about the fine print.

No matter what your politics are and your stance on copyright, Amtrak’s certainly made headlines. Someone in their marketing department is doing something right!

6 Best Books of 2013, According to Me

26 Dec

It’s that time of year when everyone’s doing their Best of 2013 lists, so I figured I’d add mine!

I know most people pick 5 or 10, but I picked 6. Why 6, you ask? For arbitrary reasons. Yes, I read more than 6 books this year. No, they weren’t all from 2013. And no, not every book that I read that was published in 2013 made this list. These just happen to be the very best of the books that I read that were published in 2013.

This isn’t a ranking, but rather a listing in a way that one theme flows into the next.

 

paradise

This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

I saw this face-out on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, picked it up, and read the first few lines. The prose was exquisite. I’d nearly given up on fiction, frustrated at how it can be so overwritten yet simple at the same time. This was the type of writing I’d been missing in my life. The language is just gorgeous. I want to reread it already.

 

interestings

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I had read Wolitzer’s The Wife in grad school and felt it was too heavy-handed, so I cautiously picked this one up after hearing the high praise for it, which almost always dooms a book for me. The Interestings deserves to be on every best of 2013 list. Not only are the story and the themes (the nature of love, the nature of friendships, family, jealousy, career, money, art, New York) thought-provoking on many levels, but the writing strikes that perfect balance of appearing both deliberate and breezy, literary yet conversationally authentic. It’s the type of book I want to now read reviews of and discuss with others, especially women artists.

 

LeanIn

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

I read this for my Scripps College book club, which is composed of alumni from a wide range of class years from the women’s college. We’re all at various stages of our careers, including stay-at-home moms, working moms with infants, moms whose children have flown the nest, recent grads who have just entered the workforce, and mid-career-level women in relationships and not. Some have Ph.D.s, others want to be yoga instructors. The resulting conversation we had about this book is that, in the end, you have to find out what works for you and that may change depending on where you are in your life.

I also happened to finally get around to reading a book a colleague had given to me a few years ago: Patty Azzarello’s Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work AND Like Your Life, which came out in 2010. While Sandberg’s book is chock-full of important statistics and food for thought, Azzarello’s, though perhaps not as carefully edited, offers tips that are actually practical for people in the workforce.

 

Print

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This book, the true story about a Canadian journalist and her Australian ex-boyfriend photographer who are kidnapped in Somalia, gave me nightmares. Literally. I became obsessed with the story, reading articles,  watching interviews with the people involved, and following them on Twitter. It got me thinking a lot about perceptions of the West, feminism, and ambition.

 

Manana

Manana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez

The publisher sent me this book, and I was a bit leery going into it that it would come off as fan fiction, but Hernandez’s Manana Means Heaven is an incredibly important book to the Beat canon. Through poetic diction, this novel tells the moving story of one of the little-known people who crossed paths with Jack Kerouac. It gives voice to a woman who didn’t even know she’d been written about decades earlier in On the Road.

You can read my interview with Tim here.

 

heart

My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart

I’ve written about Davy Rothbart before, having encountered one of the stories in this book in The Paris Review and comparing him to Jack Kerouac and then going to see him read in Brooklyn, where I met his dad and pulled a sword out of his cohort. This book technically came out last year, but the paperback came out this year, and it is brilliant. I had to stifle my laughter quite a few times on the subway to keep people from staring at me as I read this book. The thing is, though, there’s a lot of heart in this book too. It’s more than just a bunch of stories that make your eyes bug with incredulity over the antics Rothbart gets himself in. It shows the tenderness and beauty and wonder of humanity in all its forms, from an aspiring DJ to a con-artist.

 

Tell me your favorite books of 2013 below in the comments section. I’m looking for some new reads, and I figure if you read my blog we probably have similar taste! …And by similar taste, that probably means all over the board.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

 

The British Are Coming!: Beat Influence on The Kinks

13 Nov

Books-hp-GQ_04Nov13_pr_b_642x390

Today I’m continuing my discussion of Olivia Cole’s fascinating thesis that American media had a profound impact on post-World War II England, argued in her article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ.

Cole points to The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ “love/hate relationship with America,” referencing a Kerouac-like affair with the road.

A little background info that doesn’t appear in her article but might be helpful: The Kinks are the British rock band behind the songs “You Really Got Me” and “Lola.” They were formed in North London in 1964 — also known as the year The Beatles landed in America and set off the British Invasion.

In reviewing Ray Davies’ new memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff, Cole explains how the British band leader’s youthful obsession with “the cowboy heroes of Fifties Westerns” and American comic books “got him daydreaming and writing songs.” Growing up the seventh out of eight children — the youngest being Dave Davies, his Kinks bandmate — Ray Davies had barely even traveled out of his hometown of Fortis Green and dreamed of America.

Cole reports that the freedom of the road was at first alluring to Davies. Using Amazon’s preview, I read in Davies’ chapter The Empty Room:

In recent years I had become a transient observer, never settling anywhere and, after a life on the road, never committing to a place or a person.

Davies’ romantic relationships could not be sustained on the road. Cole refers to his failed relationship with Chrissie Hynde, but following the dissolution of his first marriage he attempted suicide. Rockin’ Town town put it this way:

First, his wife of nine years, Rasa, split taking the kids. A week later, Davies was admitted to Highgate Hospital and treated for a drug overdose that looked suspiciously like a suicide attempt.

Cole reports that Davies felt the loneliness of the road. She writes that he:

wonders to what extent the rock-star/beatnik lifestyle lets anything meaningful stand a chance.

Ray Davies, born in 1944, would have been thirteen when On the Road was published in the US. It does not appear from Cole’s article that the Beat Generation’s influence on The Kinks was explicit. However, Davies discusses the same jazz musicians that captivated Kerouac, the adventure and disappointment of a life on the road, and Americana.

Here is Barnes & Noble’s overview of Ray Davies’ memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff:

As a boy in post-War England, legendary Kinks’ singer/songwriter Ray Davies fell in love with America—its movies and music, its culture of freedom, fed his imagination. Then, as part of the British Invasion, he toured the US with the Kinks during one of the most tumultuous eras in recent history—until the Kinks group was banned from performing there from 1965-69. Many tours and trips later, while living in New Orleans, he experienced a transformative event: the shooting (a result of a botched robbery) that nearly took his life. In Americana, Davies tries to make sense of his long love-hate relationship with the country that both inspired and frustrated him. From his quintessentially English perspective as a Kink, Davies—with candor, humor, and wit—takes us on a very personal road trip through his life and storied career as a rock star, and reveals what music, fame, and America really mean to him. Some of the most fascinating characters in recent pop culture make appearances, from the famous to the perhaps even-more-interesting behind-the-scenes players. The book also includes a photographic insert with images from Davies’s own collection from the band’s archive.

The book was published by Sterling Publishing on October 15, 2013.

Tune in tomorrow when I talk about Cole’s discussion of Iain Sinclair’s take on the Beat Generation in his forthcoming book American Smoke.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Happy 155th Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt!

27 Oct

HuntingTheGrisly

Ten years ago — wow, time flies! — I had the pleasure of penning an introduction to Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt’s adventure memoir Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches. As part of my research, I toured his birthplace, a gorgeous brownstone right here in New York City. I loved hearing the inspirational story of how he was a sickly child whose love for reading and nature led to him becoming an advocate for conservation. Just like Jack Kerouac later would, Roosevelt read Leo Tolstoy and dime-store westerns, traveled America, dreamed of ranching (Roosevelt actually did ranch; Kerouac was a lot of talk), became associated with hyper-masculinity, and created a legend out of himself through his writing.

Today marks the 155th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s birth.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Granta Publishes Travel Issue

2 Jul

My inbox got a recent happy surprise with the subject header:

‘The Road Is Life’ Celebrate the launch of Granta 124: Travel

In case you don’t recognize the quote, it’s from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In part 3, chapter 5, he writes:

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.

The lit mag will have its New York launch for the issue on July 24th at 7pm at Bookcourt (163 Court Street; Brooklyn). Granta editor John Freeman will supposedly be there–despite May’s news that he is leaving the lit mag. Contributor Phil Klay will also be there. Readings, drinks, and conversation to ensure!

If you’re not in the New York area, you should be! But even if you’re not, Granta also has launches in San Francisco and London.

Book Court has a plethora of other events coming up that include poetry, nonfiction, fiction, photography, and music.

In case you missed it, here’s my recap of hearing Freeman speak about Granta.

Lucky Peach Launched Travel Issue Last Night in NYC

27 Jun

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Right after graduating from college, I embarked on a backpacking adventure across Europe. I made so many wonderful memories. My nerdy English-degree self sought out Oscar Wilde’s lipstick-stained tomb and visited the church where satirist Jonathan Swift was dean. And of course, I hit beaches from Nice to Greece.

What I didn’t make memories of was the regional foods. I had a meager budget, as did my travel companion, and we stayed in hostels and ate foods like trail mix and potato chips that we bought from the grocery store. We were hungry but it was worth it to see so many spectacular sights and meet fascinating people along our journey.

But that’s not how everyone travels. Lucky Peach has devoted an entire issue of their delicious food journal, founded by chef David Chang and Peter Meehan, to travel. And they do travel right.

The issue launched last night at McNally Jackson in New York City.

What country would you like to eat your way through?

Happy 161st Birthday, Antoni Gaudi!

25 Jun

Antoni Gaudi, Catalan architect of insanely intricate, bone-like structures, was born on this day in 1852.  When I was backpacking through Europe, I stopped by his La Sagrada Familia.  You can read about it in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

Gaudi was beaten and imprisoned when he showed up at a demonstration against banning Catalan.  The language is now considered an endangered language.

Friday Links: Words in Motion

14 Jun

Penguin

Leaving you this weekend with a few fun links:::

I was just thinking the other day that there should be a library on every corner instead of a Starbucks … or maybe a library in every Starbucks? The Free Little Library might be the solution we need! Here’s to hoping the expand throughout New York City.

There’s a Secret Poet in Lynn, MA, who has been posting anonymous messages. (via Poets & Writers)

I want a Poet Tree outside my window! (via Poets & Writers)

Have you ever spotted the POEMobile?

Want to read poetry on the go? Poetry.org offers 2500 poems in mobile format.

Anakalian Whims posted last year about Parnassus on Wheels and the idea of a peddler’s caravan.

Walden on Wheels is a new book by Ken Ilgunas about how living on the open road helped the author find financial freedom.

In case you missed it, here’s my link to the Penguin Book Truck.

Something tells me I’ll be spending some time out on Library Lawn on Governor’s Island this summer.

What are you reading this weekend?

“The Mediterranean Is a Miserable Place”

6 Jun

Greek-flag

While surfing the Web, I came across an article titled “Vacationing in the Most Miserable Place on Earth This Summer?” The tag line: “The Mediterranean is a miserable place.”

By the second sentence, the author Curtis Tate, was finger-pointing Greece: “[…] Greece was the flag bearer for the economic and social misery these countries are experiencing.”

There are countries in the news right now for deadly protests, horrific crimes against women, suicide bombers, and warlords. Vacationing in those countries would quite possibly be a more miserable experience.

But wait! Tate’s article actually has nothing to do with vacations. It’s about how people actually living in the Mediterranean–not only in Greece but also France–are unhappy with their current economic situation. His article concludes by saying “[…] China, Brazil, and even Kenya are optimistic for the future….” I have nothing against those countries, and I’m sure they can make lovely vacation destinations, but I’ve heard more people say they’d want to travel to France and Greece. Tate’s article is dangerously misleading.

Tate’s article title perhaps compels readers to click to read but it is offensive in its fear mongering. Unfortunately it appears to be a tactic he–or his editor–has used before:

Is Europe’s Unemployment Worst Than We Thought?

7 Reasons to Fear the Housing Bubble

Is Europe Holding the Rest of the World Back?

Are Chinese Export Numbers Increasingly Sketchy?

To be fair, the actual content of Tate’s “Miserable Place” article is not inaccurate in terms of the statics cited for the outlook of people in the Mediterranean.

The topic is not even his original idea.

Instead of linking to the Pew Research Center’s reports that he cites, Tate links to Drew DeSilver’s article published the day before his, entitled “The Mediterranean: Go for the Beaches, Not the Mood.” Although not identical word for word, Tate’s and DeSilver’s articles have the same content and in the same order. While Tate’s title invokes fear, DeSilver’s title is slightly more optimistic but suggests that the mood will affect one’s vacation.
While it is true that a poor economy can put a damper on tourism because of diminished resources and increased crime, neither Tate’s nor DeSilver’s articles are not making this point. Their articles says absolutely nothing about if and how the economy is affecting vacationers.Instead, Tate remarks that young people are unemployed. Unless he is subtly trying to warn you that you’ll be ordering your frappes from someone in their forties instead of some hot young thang, the fact that young people aren’t finding work right now probably isn’t going to deter your vacation plans. Oh and about that age thing — Jennifer Aniston is 44 and John Stamos is 49. We age well.

DeSilver says, “And, in what should surprise exactly no one, Greece has by far the bleakest outlook.” Hm… “in what should surprise exactly no one,” huh? He’s right: I’m not surprised that the statistics say 99% of Greeks say their country’s economic situation is “very or somewhat bad.” We’re a notoriously melodramatic people. Have you ever read the tragedies?

Does our “miserable” and “very or somewhat bad” outlook on the economy really affect who we are and how we treat our tourists, though?

My sense is that it doesn’t. Certainly, I’m a bit biased, but I’m basing my understanding of Greek tourism on the fact that every non-Greek I know who has visited there has loved it. They’ve found the people to be warm and generous, and they’ve gone multiple times or wished they could.
An article published the same day as Tate’s article was titled “Greece: Athens Tourism Up 10% for First Time in Three Years.” It concluded saying, “Arrivals at regional airports across the country last month showed a 20.5% increase in arrivals of foreign tourists compared to the same month last year.” Earlier this year, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard even hypothesized that this could be “the year of Greek tourism,” according to Capital.Gr.

I did my due diligence and checked out the Pew Research Center’s report. Guess what. The words “travel,” “traveler,” and “vacation” appeared no where in the report.

Greece needs your tourism now more than ever.

Are the Beatniks Anti-American?

27 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerican flag outside Kerouac’s birth home

I came to read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti with little to no preconceived ideas about the Beat Generation. I had heard of Gilligan but never Maynard G. Krebs. I associated goatees with Ethan Hawke and turtlenecks with Sharon Stone. I liked the poetry bit in So I Married an Axe-Murderer but associated it with the spoken word poets of 1990s coffeehouses. So when I picked up The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, I had no presupposed knowledge of the writers in it or the culture they apparently inspired, apart from having discovered the book in a photo spread of a teen girl’s magazine. The kids in the spread looked like how I looked–or, rather, the cooler version of how I wished myself to look. That seemed as good a reason as any to beg my mom to buy the book for me.

I discovered humor and beauty and sensitivity in the words of the poets and novelists associated with the Beat Generation. When I read Kerouac explain the definition of “beat” as being both beat down and beatific, I understood and believed his words. It enlightened the way I read On the Road, and yet I read it sympathetically in the first place. I was a lot like Sal Paradise, hanging out with a friend who was wilder than I was. I longing to hit the road, to escape the humdrum of the suburbs and walk the city sidewalks of New York.

It was only later that I discovered that many others viewed the Beats and their work quite differently. It was only through reading biographies and nonfiction books on the Beats that I came to see that these writers were referred to as “beatniks,” and that that had a negative connotation. The term was a derogatory amalgamation of “Beat” and “sputnik,” and not being up on my history in my teen years, I understood it simply to mean they were “far out,” like a satellite in the space race. I had certainly heard of the Cold War, but it took me longer to understand that “beatnik” suggested the writers were somehow anti-American.

The idea of the Beats as anti-American took a long time for me to wrap my head around. Kerouac had written such a beautiful novel about America. He seemed so in love with the country and even made me fall in love with it in a new way. Before then, as the daughter of an immigrant, I had considered travel as something to do outside of America. I’d been to Europe but never the West Coast. Reading the Beats, I wanted to know more about this splendid vision of America they described. Sure, Ginsberg challenged America, but growing up decades later than him I was encouraged in school to think independently as he did. One could speak up in love. One must speak up in love.

As I continued to study Kerouac in particular, I learned about how he had been in the Merchant Marine during World War II. So much of what I read emphasized that he’d gotten discharged from the US Navy after being diagnosed with “schizoid personality.” It took more digging to hear a story like this one of how much Kerouac respected even the American flag:

At a party with Kesey’s Merry Pranksters Kesey came up and wrapped an American flag around me. So I took it (Kerouac demonstrates how he took it, and the movements are tender) and I folded it up the way you’re supposed to, and put it on the back of the sofa. The flag is not a rag.

The Beats were far from squeaky clean, but anti-American? I don’t see it. Perhaps the Beats didn’t jive with sock hops and malt shops, but maybe that’s a good thing because those 1950s stereotypes whitewashed the truth and left out large segments of the population. Some of us had fathers who spoke with an accent the way Ricky Ricardo did. Some of were intelligent but didn’t like stuffiness. Some of us liked to play our music LOUD. Some of us were friends with the outcasts. Some of us were misfits ourselves.

This Memorial Day, remember that many who died fighting for our country were just kids looking for a chance to escape from home or hoping for a chance to make something of their lives or desiring to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And think about today’s generation of Americans, those who may be a little rough around the edges or a little outspoken but who are so full of life, liberty, and justice.

You may also be interested in Memorial Day: Kerouac in the Merchant Marines.