BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

Art of TravelWith unusual patience, I saved this third (for me) Alain de Botton book to read on a flight to London, where I have lived twice before (B.C. as in Before Children … how else could I have averaged some nine shows a week, oh greedy me??!!) and returned to regularly for a few days at a time of theater binge-ing with friends. How fitting, I thought, since de Botton lived in London and here I was headed there. But imagine my amazement when I opened the book and there on the front page of the first chapter is a tiny square reduction from a page of the London A to Z (A to Zed for locals) of Hammersmith … our last London address! Of ALL the pages to pick and there it was! If I my eyeballs could see better, I’m sure I could have pointed exactly to our street, right there along the Thames, around the corner from the Dove (supposedly London’s oldest pub).

That less-than-one-inch square was enough to grab me. Unrelenting escapist as I am, of course the book spoke to me. And even though he fights with his companion in Barbados about who gets the better piece of dessert, I promise that reading his peripatetic musings will definitely make you a better traveler. And, dare I say, maybe even a better observer and thinker, too?

Each chapter presents a destination (or destinations) with a guide (or two). From Charles Baudelaire and Edward Hopper to guide us through the service station, airport, plane, and train, to Edmund Burke and Job (!!) to join us in the Sinai desert, to the more predictable Vincent Van Gogh in Provence or William Wordsworth in the Lake District, the endlessly surprising, remarkably erudite de Botton takes us on journeys beyond the beach or hilly landscapes, beyond the buildings and the art museums. And, of course, the familiar becomes delightfully unfamiliar (and that much more enticing) through de Botton’s questioning eyes.

If I had ONE thing I might quibble about is that the guides are ALL dead white men. Where are the women, I might ask … except on the dedication page? So maybe that’s excuse for Volume II. And reason for de Botton to venture further out (with women leading the way): he might consider taking Lady Murasaki Shikibu with him to Kyoto or Lady Hong to Seoul. And maybe seven a few women still breathing … like Winnie Mandela to Soweto or Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (the newly elected President – GO GIRL!) to Monrovia. Great possibilities, no?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2002, 2004 (paperback reprint)


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