Though only one of these is an actual travel memoir, all three made me want to jump on a plane and experience the places mentioned. If you’re an armchair traveler, you might like these.
It wasn’t until I read Anya Von Bremzen’s memoir, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, that I realized I know next to nothing about Russia. Her memoir, part history lesson, part food chronicle, part personal tale, is a combination that appealed to me on many levels. While I often got bogged down in the details of the politics going on in the Soviet Union, it was a necessary frame-of-reference for the food the author then described. I learned quite a bit having the story told in this context.
Oddly, the tales she told made me long to visit Russia and see some of this for myself, and at the same time, made me think I should never visit Russia. This, combined with the recent coverage of the winter Olympics followed by the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, all jumbled together in the same way that the information in this book did. Bottom line, I don’t know what to think about Russia.
But I do know one thing: I want to try Russian food. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realize I’ve never had Russian food. In fact, I can’t think of any Russian restaurants anywhere either. There must be some in San Francisco, though I missed them. And while the cuisine seems very similar to Polish food (which I love), there is something distinctly Russian about the recipes and cultural staples she describes. I’ll be on the search for Russian food now.
I can’t decide how I feel about this book. It was initially off-putting as author Kristin Newman immediately jumped into her sexual escapades around the globe. It reminded me of twentysomethings who think it’s cool to brag about “that time I was so wasted,” or “I was so drunk,” etc. But instead, it was Kristin boasting about all the men she slept with in various foreign countries. I don’t consider myself that prudish, but there were times when it seemed like she was trading sex for a place to stay or a ride when she needed one.
Still, her writing won me over and soon I was caught up in the adventures and locales she described. As a writer for several sitcoms, she had the time and the money to spend on periods of extended travel and her stories were entertaining and funny. It was easy to see how she made a living entertaining people with humor.
Then I’d teeter back to not liking her. Maybe it was jealousy in part because I’m more aligned with the “people who were breeding” in my twenties and early thirties while she was globe-trekking. (Is it my imagination or is her book title purposely offensive?) I can admit that a part of me wishes I’d been as wild, carefree and uninhibited as she was. Then I remember who I am, and that I’m not an extrovert who gloms onto strangers and takes them up on their offers to fly halfway around the world to stay at their place. That’s just not me.
But I loved the adventures and the travel descriptions. So I teetered back to liking the book again. It kept me reading and made me drool with envy. Unfortunately, Kristin’s sexual romps were distracting in what was otherwise a great travel memoir.
Fantastic book by the author of Eat, Pray, Love. I liked that book, but liked this even better. I listened to this on audiobook read by the author. It was part personal story, part sociology verging on textbook as the author explored different meanings, thoughts and customs on marriage.
Not surprisingly, the parts that appealed to me most were her travel stories. She described trying to interview women in a Mong village on their thoughts about their marriages. It was a foreign concept to them and showed us more about that part of the world than any travelogue I’ve read. She also described her weekend trip to Cambodia, which was so powerful that it made me think I can never go there. I don’t think I have the heart for it after listening to her tale. Her descriptions were incredible.
There were other parts of the book, too, about the history of marriage that made me curious to learn more. Especially the history of Christian marriages. Totally different than what I’d always presumed.
Gilbert’s nonstop adamance about not wanting to get married started to get on my nerves. It started to seem whiny and childish. But maybe that’s because I’ve never felt so perversely against marriage. I realize, also, that she was making a strong case for her book. Still, I started to get irritated and the book ended on a down-note for me because of it. If only she’d described another trip. That would have been a high note for me.
All three of these books made me long to pack my suitcase and set off to an exotic locale. Luckily, I have lots of travel coming up.
Do you have any books to recommend? Books that make you want to jump on a plane and fly?
Thank you so much for sharing!! I gotta read one of them… I love reading and traveling, but most of the books I read are not about traveling, thats weird I know ahahah… so I gotta change that soon!! 😉
I do love travel memoirs. And fiction. And mysteries. And…and…and. Let’s just say, I love books. 😉
Mee tooooo 😀 I gotta some good travel book on my list!!
Thanks for sharing. I need to check these books out. Mine was Bill Bryson’s Notes from America which I read when I was 10. It really made me want to go to America and when I eventually went there it was the one book I took with me!
Bill Bryson is a genius! I read ‘A Walk in the Woods’ and immediately planned a trip for my 9-year-old son and I to hike part of the Appalachian Trail. I changed my mind once I really thought about what it entailed and how ill-equipped I was. But I was so caught up in Bill Bryson’s account of it, I was ready to hike the whole thing.
Nice reviews Juliann. I’m kinda drawn to the last one if only that I think marriage in the West as we know it is very flawed and there must be an alternative that doesn’t end – in so many cases – in tears and trauma.
Then you’ll love this book, Roy. Lots of interesting facts and viewpoints. Many were very surprising.
I have Committed on my reading list of books to read – it keeps growing and hard for me to keep up. I love travel reads as well as adventure reads 🙂 Happy Reading – Happy Weekend!
My TBR list is insane. Too many good books out there. Never enough time to read.
What great reviews! When we were in Berlin last summer we went to a cold war museum, and ate at the museum restaurant, choosing from a menu featuring the food that was available in Eastern Germany when it was a part of the Soviet empire, where good food was a rarity, and substitutions were rife.
I enjoyed reading Eat, Pray, Love, but haven’t read Committed yet. I’m waiting to find it in the free box, or for a quarter at the library book sale, but will get to it eventually.
Thanks for another great post.
P.S. I’m a breeder too, happily married and loving parenting. I do think the title was meant to be somewhat insulting or at least flip and cheeky. Life is too short and there are too many excellent books out there that I’m sure I would enjoy more.
Thanks for the comments! I will keep that Berlin museum in mind. And your take on the Russian food was exactly what the book was about.
Read Committed when you can. Lots of interesting facts in there.
What a wonderful list! I want to try Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, that looks so interesting.
I think you’ll like it. Very insightful.
I really identify with your thoughts on Russia. I travelled there last year (and have recently written a post about it) and I also found it hard to know what to think about the place. What I saw in Moscow and St Petersburg was so extravagant and beautiful – I loved it, but it always seemed that I was only seeing what people wanted me to see, and that there was a whole other ‘version’ of Russia hidden away from the tourists. I would certainly recommend travelling there though, if you get the chance!
That is how I imagine it. Extremes. I’d love to visit there, but like you, don’t know if I’d be able to make sense of it. I’m going to see what you’ve written about it. The book definitely piqued my interest.
Gilbert does tend to be a bit whiny in general. My favorite part of Eat, Pray, Love was the travel. The rest was sometimes insightful, sometimes lukewarm.
Toward the end, I was pretty much over her foot-stomping about having to get married. The travel parts were definitely the highlights for me, but so were many of the facts she shared about marriage and Christianity. Made me want to look into some things. Sparked some ideas. I always love that.
Great post and reviews, Juliann! I vote for nbr 1, too – once I read the biography of Peter the Great and really became impressed with Russia. ♥♥♥;^)
Enjoyed your reviews Juliann. Come to think of it I haven’t tasted Russian food either! Nor do I know much about the country. So Soviet Cooking sounds like a must read. As for Newman’s title, I pick offensive. Not saying that might not be sour grapes, but still 🙂
It’s surprising how little exposure we’ve had to Russian food and culture. Must remedy that somehow.