April 2010


Lonely Hearts Book Club Picks

“I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.”
—T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

My husband lost his job and is working part-time. My business has also been slow, forcing us to put our house up for sale—with no takers. I’ve given up mani-pedis, lattes, Sports Club/LA, magazines, blow-dries (but not Franck, my colorist), valet parking, DirecTV and $15 dollar martinis. A vacation is history—even a romantic weekend getaway. Can you suggest some reading that will take me away? Sorry to say, I like sappy romances, but I’m trying to broaden my horizons.    —Stacy M., Westwood

Dear Stacy,
No need to apologize. Romance novels can be a quick fix for the troubled mind. Consider the majestic knight falling for a beautiful heiress, who, alas, is betrothed. Or ladies in waiting, Saxon warriors, good-hearted trolls, sorcerers and kings. But be careful, the stuff is like heroin—withdrawal can be tough. There are, however, a wealth of “travel” books that deliver adventures imaginary and real—from classic authors like Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote about their turn-ofthe-century travels, to modern-day essayists who wander the world in search of exotic escapades...

The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, by Mark Twain

Said to be the first American travel book. In 1867, Twain set out on a steamer to tour the world. Written before Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, these essays are peppered with satire: “In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.”

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson

As an impoverished young Scotsman in the 1870s, Stevenson wandered the wilds of France with his faithful donkey, Modestine. He traveled to escape his ill health and forget his married lover. Along the way, he found the inspiration for his classic novels Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped.

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle

The author’s now famous love affair with the French countryside is reflected in a month-by-month chronicle of a couple’s delicious first year in an old French farmhouse. An education in pâtés, procrastination and patois.

A Year in the Merde, by Stephen Clarke

In Clarke’s response to Mayle’s love affair with France, his experience was not quite the same. In this novel based on Clarke’s diaries, a handsome, hormonal Brit slugs it out in a Paris company. It would be labeled chick lit if a woman wrote it, but since a man did, it’s called hilarious, satirical and playful. A good read, whether you love the French or hate them.

The Best American Travel Writing, edited by Susan Orlean

Each year, this wonderful series features a different guest editor—and the 2007 volume was one of our favorites, filled with articles from the New Yorker and the sadly defunct Gourmet. David Halberstam’s “Boys of Saigon,” about his gastronomic adventures as a young journalist there, is reason enough to buy it.

Not Now, Voyager, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Schwartz’s 2009 polemic is a beautifully crafted, quirky meditation on the tribulations of getting away—and why she would rather not. “Why did I go if I didn’t really want to...” she asks. “I find accounts of other people’s travels painfully dull. I even find my own accounts dull...Gulliver’s Travels, to my mind, is the ideal travel book.”

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

According to this national bestseller, you can experience great adventures by merely sitting still—also known as mindfulness meditation. With bits of wisdom by Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and Dante, Kabat-Zinn posits that meditation, like travel, offers a simple but powerful way to get yourself “unstuck.” Best bit of advice: Every time you feel the urge to tell others about meditating, squelch it.

Have a question? You can reach Mack and Kaufman at lonelyheartsbookclub@latimes.com.