If you asked me, I would tell you that I don’t normally read travel books. I would not even put it on the list of types of books that I would want to read.
But I was wrong.
Before I left on my recent vacation, a friend gave me the book, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. I had never heard of the book and had no idea what it was about. The friend just told me that she had loved the book years ago and thought I might like it.
To be honest, if I was not traveling, I might not have read this book very quickly. I have a serious backlog of books that I want to read so introducing a book that I knew nothing about would not usually move it to the top of the pile.
That would have been a mistake.
Let me say first of all that I loved this book. Then let me tell you that I am having a terrible time trying to figure out how to describe it to you. This book is a bit about travel, then also about travel and the human condition, and then a bit of history and biography thrown in to complicate the description.
I was caught in the first section of the book when the author described how he saw a picture of a beach and palm tree in Barbados and decided that he had to escape the cold and dark in England to go to Barbados. He writes that he finally gets to the hotel room (after doing the travel part which is usually left out of our thinking of getting to a destination) and gets up in the morning and walks out to see the view that he has been dreaming of for months. He notes that instead of soaking in the scene, he finds that he is thinking about how he seems to have a tickle in his throat, he remembers he forgot to tell a colleague something about work, and then that he feels the need to go to the bathroom.
“A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making itself apparent: I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.”
With that scene, I was hooked. It was so right. It is exactly what I fight when I am traveling. Wonderful places and things but I still get lost in the things that were on my mind before I left – the things that I am trying to escape when on vacation.
Mr. de Botton writes a book that entwines his travel experiences and observations with the travel experiences of historical figures (some much more famous than others.) I found his references interesting. So often, I found myself thinking that he had just hit the nail on the head.
“Valuable elements may be easier to experience in art and in anticipation than in reality.
The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress, they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments and, without either lying or embellishing, thus lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present.”
He talks about Gustave Flaubert’s desire to see the “Orient”. (By which Flaubert meant North Africa. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. He seems to have been a bit geographically challenged. ) and what happened when he finally traveled there. He talks about Vincent Van Gogh’s Provence, and William Wordsworth’s Lake Country. He also has other historical characters that are not so well known but had interesting views on traveling. (Including a reference to Xavier de Maistre. De Maistre wrote a piece named Journey around my Bedroom. )
The book was originally published in 2002. I think you should be able to find it at your local library or it is available in electronic format or paperback from Amazon. I think that you will find it an interesting read.
(The true measure of how much I liked it – it probably took me longer to read this book than any other on the trip. Not because it was long but because I found myself intentionally going slow to enjoy the writing.)
Thanks for reading!
Yes, I have put in links to Amazon pages for your use if you wish to buy the book. Yes, I could get a commission for the sale if you buy the book by using my link. Before you think that I am a money grubbing little blogger, I would like you to know that I have yet to make ONE PENNY from the links. If it was my get rich quick scheme, it woefully misfired.