When I told a friend that I was leaving today for Italy, she said, “Oh, good for you! And thank goodness I don’t have to go. I hate traveling!” This immediately made me think about The Accidental Tourist.
I loved that book, and the movie. The protagonist was—is?—a man whose job is writing travel guides for people who don’t really want to leave home. Such people read about distant places rather than going there—not that there’s anything wrong with that! But personally, I find it incomprehensible. And it’s my belief that most people are with me on this.
Among reading travelers, there are two distinct but overlapping categories: those who read before they go in order to be prepared, and those who read after they return as a way of consolidating and enriching their memories. Regardless of your style, let me mention a few good travel reads.
Of course I think first of Italy. There’s something for everyone. La Bella Figura is light and humorous. It relies on lots of stereotypes, and is a bit brittle (IMHO) but entertaining nonetheless. I especially enjoy in-depth views of places written by ex-pats who are excellent writers. I also put The City of Florence by R.W.B. Lewis and My Venice by Donna Leon into this category. Both are well-written, rich in detail, and quirky in perspective, taking the reader beyond the usual tourist paths.
Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island does a similar service for Great Britain.
Not all tourism must happen abroad. A two-week float-and-paddle rafting trip down the Colorado River remains one of my greatest trips ever. And having read John McPhee, a trip to Alaska remains one of my (as yet) unfulfilled dreams.
My advice: wherever you’re going, wherever you’ve been, wherever you want to go—if only in the comfort of your recliner!—read about it!