Good Book Recommendation: Tales From Nowhere

When I went to Peru, I brought a travel essay collection with me. This book has clocked a lot of miles and looks worse for wear after being lugged around in my daypack or backpack for seventeen days. The water I spilled on it in Casma makes it look all warped and well used.

Only trouble is that I never actually got around to reading it until after I got home! Ah, but I started the other day and have been chipping away at it every morning since. The essays are wonderfully fresh and speak so eloquently to my own personal experience in Peru that reading the book is a special treat for me. While I have not finished the whole thing yet, I want to recommend it. This book is great for people who (a) may have the inclination to travel and can’t or (b) who would want to travel to out of the way places except they know that they are NOT, thank you very much, suited to that kind of ordeal. These writers have traveled off the beaten path and experienced the sorts of adventures that are great to read about, to live vicariously — but not so simple to actually go through yourself (as I found out on my recent trip to Peru).

What is most helpful about the book for me right now is how it has provided a clearer sense of how to write about my own travels. I have found excellent models in these varied essays, and I am excited to take the rough material from my blog and try my hand at some finished pieces along these lines. Further, the essays also give me a frame for thinking about my time in Peru. I still feel fairly ambivalent about my service trip. It is still unclear how and how much my participation was helpful. It is still unclear what I got out of the experience myself. It is still unclear how I feel about having taken that trip. These essays reveal their writers’ attitudes and feelings masterfully, offering me various ways of seeing that I can try on and explore.

Oh, yes, and the collection info:

Tales From Nowhere: Unexpected Stories from Unexpected Places, edited by Don George, published by Lonely Planet in 2006.

And in case you are wondering, so far I have found several stories suitable to read aloud to my ten year old, who has been delighting in the absurdity of the situations these travelers faced as well as the excitement of hearing them try to get out of their predicaments. In fact, reading these stories together has given me a way to discuss my Peru experience with my son that he can relate to more. He often asks me to compare what we read to my Peru… “Were the roads like that in Peru, Mommy?” YUP. “Ah, I get it. That must have been kind of exciting but also scarey.” YUP.

So far my favorite story is the first one, by Danny Wallace, in which the writer is stuck in Shanghai International Airport and has a bizarre linguistic exchange with a Chinese woman who only knows distinct and unrelated sentences in English. The ensuing “conversation” is hilariously recounted. As anyone who has been bored to tears in an airport can tell you, such an experience is a true gift to the weary traveler. The way the story ends, though, is priceless, as the pair descend into sheer nonsense communication — on purpose — relishing the joy of language through playing with words. Ah, music to my English professor ears!

Happy reading 🙂

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