Lonely Planet – Ireland

0

IMG_4627Apologies, friends. It’s been more than a year (a year!) since we last met, and the fault is entirely mine.

To be fair, it’s been a rather big year. I survived a busy first year of teaching middle school, which is enough to shatter any pleasure reading schedule (yes, I read some great books – just in smaller quantities – and yes, I will tell you about them as soon as I can!). I also did a fair bit of paid writing, which always trumps blog freebies (you can read my recent work in Avenue Calgary and Spur [page 6] magazines, if you are so inclined). I trained for and ran my first half-marathon in June – a goal I have been hoping to cross off my list for a long time. And to top it all off, I got married last month to the Lager Blogger. It has been a wonderful, wild whirlwind of a year.

Now, it’s time to get back to blogging, and what better way to start than with a travel recap? Ireland’s been on my must-see list for the better part of a decade, and my husband (!) and I wanted to have a honeymoon adventure. We’re not sit-on-the-beach people, so on a very cold February afternoon, I contacted Stephanie at Discovering Ireland to see if we could arrange a road trip right after our wedding in July. Once we had the bones of the trip booked booked (a Peugeot 208 and eight nights of accommodation in converted castles and manor houses, followed by four nights in Dublin at an Airbnb that we booked on our own), it was time to start getting excited. It was time to order a travel guide.

I’m a passionate and engaged traveller, and I am fussy about my guidebooks. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all, although some are more consistently good than others. I’ve always had a deep fondness for the Lonely Planet. I got my first one – Europe on a Shoestring – for Christmas in 2005 before I headed to Bournemouth, UK as an exchange student. In the days before smartphones, it was a lifeline on more than one occasion. I used Europe on a Shoestring to track down hostels in Barcelona and Paris, to learn how to barter with Spanish street vendors and to calm me down in Denmark when I got on the wrong bus and couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Lonely Planet has accompanied me up and down the east coast of Australia (where, truth be told, the Rough Guide guidebook is actually a better choice if you’re trying to camp. But that’s a story for another day), through New Zealand’s North Island, snowboarding in the Alps and navigating the Cannes Film Festival. Lonely Planet has also been a feature in a lot of other travel-related books I love (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Around The World in 80 Dates), and it’s always been a not-so-secret dream of mine to be a Lonely Planet writer. Could there be a better job?

Neither of us are huge fans of fixed-itinerary trips. Once the skeleton is mapped out (where we’re sleeping, mode of transport), we like to leave the rest up to our mood, the weather, our budget and a whole host of other factors that require flexibility on the go. As travellers, we’re also impossibly nosy. We want to know whether our hotels are well-reviewed, if they’ve made it into the guidebook. We want to know if the pubs recommended by Discovering Ireland are really the best pubs in Ireland or if there’s something even better off the beaten track. We want to check on things we drive by (what was that monastic ruin back there all about, anyway?). I’m a sucker for facts and trivia, and I like to know a little bit about the history behind the sights we see. I want information in the form of anecdotes from a trusted friend – and I want to build on these anecdotes with stories of my own.

This is why the Lonely Planet is so useful. It’s a little bit of a history primer (perfect for excited we’re-nearly-there-can-you-believe-it? airport reading), a little bit of a geography class and a lot of friendly, digestible recommendations (which pubs serve food and which ones don’t?). I like to add to it with a little bit of writing of my own, too. While I don’t like writing in books as a general rule (and I would never, EVER write in one of my beloved novels), I love to scrawl all over my travel guides. I’m an inconsistent journal writer. I have good intentions, but I can get distracted by the adventure (much like I do with this blog). But it doesn’t take very much energy to scribble a few notes in the margins to record an impression of a place.

We just got home on Monday, and we brought back a book full of the best stories. My Lonely Planet – Ireland doesn’t map out the myriad trips that one could take in Ireland if one was so inclined, or at least it doesn’t anymore. It maps out our trip, our stories. My Lonely Planet tells the story of the beautiful hand-knit sweaters that could only be purchased after a 1.5-hour ferry ride, of rented bicycles with baskets, of “we wish we remembered to pack hiking boots!” It tells the story of wrong turns in Dublin, of new friends, late nights, cozy pubs and hearty food. It tells the story of a pair of newlyweds who love adventure – and each other – very much. You can’t buy that in a travel guide. That’s a story you have to write for yourself.

 

 

 

 

Better Than Before

0

Better Than Before Photo Credit: GretchenRubin.comTheoretically, one of the nicest things about being a teacher is the long summer break. And next summer, I’m sure I will enjoy the break to its fullest (especially with a wedding, honeymoon and hopefully some camping thrown into the mix). But this year, the summer isn’t exactly downtime. After all, I’ve been a full-time student for the majority of the year. With impending student loan repayments, upcoming wedding costs, a big trip to the UK and day-to-day living expenses, I can’t really afford to put my feet up completely. And, as I discovered in this interesting new read from Gretchen Rubin, I actually don’t think I’m wired that way anyway.

Athough I’m working until late August (I’ve picked up some off and on temp work, and continue to write for Avenue Calgary amid other freelancing opportunities), it’s the kind of work that leaves time for fun reading. Enter Better Than Before, the latest offering from the author of The Happiness Project (which, incidentally, was the first book I ever blogged about here). Rubin has a lot going on in this book, which offers up a study of different personality types (which she calls the Four Tendencies), how they are affected by habits (good and bad), and how each type can actively work to develop and foster new habits. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing habits, but Rubin observes that habits and happiness are often intertwined.

I didn’t find that this book broke a ton of new ground (after all, isn’t it just common sense to notice that people are different from one another, and therefore that people are motivated by different internal and external factors as they pursue individual goals?), but what I really liked was Rubin’s straightforward way of explaining why some people find it easier for habits to stick than others.

She identifies a Four Tendencies framework that is really simple, but effective. Broadly, your tendency is your personality type – in other words, whether you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, a rule follower or a rule-breaker, etc. You can read more about the tendencies on Rubin’s website (or even better, you should read this book). The tendencies are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel, and according to Rubin, most people are Obligers or Questioners. Even before I came across the quiz at the back, I immediately identified as an Upholder. I'm An Upholder

“Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations: they meet deadlines and keep New Year’s resolutions without much struggle or supervision. Upholders take great satisfaction from moving smoothly through their daily schedule and their to-do lists. They meet others’ expectations—and their expectations for themselves. 

However, Upholders may feel uneasy when expectations aren’t clear, when they’re worried that they’re breaking the rules, or when they feel overwhelmed by expectations they seek to meet. They enjoy habits, and form habits fairly easily.”

It’s not every day that you find most of the core elements of your personality laid out so clearly. I think that because I identified myself so quickly in the Four Tendencies, I really enjoyed what followed, which is Rubin’s (also an Upholder) analysis of habit as it relates to each personality type.

I guess, like the author, I don’t always remember that everyone is not like me (or like each other, for that matter). What I found most useful about Better Than Before had less to do with my own habits – Upholders tend to be pretty self-motivated, anyway – and more to do with other peoples’ habits. For example, I immediately spotted Matt as a Questioner (and I’m sure that he Questioned me asking him to take a personality quiz on the train from Edinburgh to Manchester to confirm my suspicions). His habits are different than mine because his motivations are different. As they should be, because we’re not the same person!

Like I said, I’m not sure the content is groundbreaking if you have a pretty strong awareness of yourself. But this one really stuck with me (kind of like 10% Happier stuck with me), and if you enjoyed The Happiness Project, this will probably be right up your alley.

Golden Boy

0

Golden Boy (Photo: Simon & Schuster)This is a very long-overdue post. August sort of got away from me – I took on some exciting freelance writing assignments (including some for Avenue magazine, a well-regarded local Calgary publication, that I’m quite thrilled about) and unfortunately, one of the downsides of getting paid for my writing (well really, the only downside) is that blogging sort of takes a backseat. Classes started up again this week too, which has meant a few days of chaos and stress. Don’t worry though – I haven’t stopped reading. You can expect reviews for Jane Christmas’s excellent travel book What The Psychic Told The Pilgrim, the beautiful book of poetry by Cynthia Rylant called God Got a Dog and the other books I muddled through in August shortly.

Today though, I want to tell you about Golden Boy, which is one of the most gripping novels I’ve ever read. I can’t believe that Abigail Tartellin is only 26 (or that she was waitressing when she got called by a publisher for the rights to this book). She’s amazing, and she’s only going to get better – and quite frankly, she puts small-time writers like me to shame. She has a real gift and her book is brilliant.

I gave up my bookstore job this fall in favour of a different opportunity with slightly better pay and more sociable hours, but I’m sticking around once a month to run a book club for teenagers there in the fall. So I attended the Fall Gala at Indigo Signal Hill on Saturday night to promote my new venture, and my friend Meg couldn’t recommend Golden Boy highly enough. Convinced by her enthusiasm and glowing review, I had a look and I was intrigued.

Max is the 16-year-old intersex son of a high-profile golden couple in a satellite town of Oxford in Britain. Max is well-adjusted, funny, compassionate and everything a 16-year-old should be, until a shocking betrayal forces him to re-examine everything he thinks he knows about himself.

I won’t give anything else away, except that it’s twisty and brilliant and poignant and sad and very, very well done. I have barely been able to put it down since Sunday, and have been reading it in fits and starts around my ethics and law readings for my education classes. I just finished it ten minutes ago and my face is streaky from mascara and I feel like I need to hold everyone in my world just a little bit tighter.

Please read Golden Boy. I think I may have found my new favourite novel of the year. Thank you again, Meg, for recommending it!

A Long Way Home

0

A Long Way Home (Photo: Penguin)When I first saw Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home on a table at the bookstore, I knew it was a story that I needed to read.

This book has been getting a lot of great buzz since it came out (most recently, a film deal off the back of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Looks like the movie will be called Lion and production will begin in August). All you need to do is skim the back to know that it’s a captivating story.

Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia.

Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pore over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.

How can you pass this kind of story up?

I think what drew me in – aside from the fact that Brierley’s circumstances and story are extraordinary – is that we’re nearly the same age. I’m 29, Brierley is in his early 30s. We grew up (mostly) with the same sense of Western privilege, the same access to technology. But I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose my family, to not know where I came from.

This is a really quick read, and I would recommend it to anyone. I polished it off on a single flight to Nova Scotia (Matt and I are spending a couple of weeks on the east coast of Canada, visiting his family, catching up with friends and getting my Anne of Green Gables fix on Prince Edward Island), and I was struck by Brierley’s self-awareness, resourcefulness and tenacity.

Anyone who has a fascination with technology – especially Google – survival stories, resilience and the ‘smallness’ of our very big world needs to read A Long Way Home. I’m so glad I did.

The Invention of Wings

0

The Invention of Wings (Photo: Penguin)I actually read The Invention of Wings a couple weeks ago, but I got so distracted by the Robert Galbraith novels (and three jobs, and a weekend of moving Matt to Calgary, and the Calgary Stampede, and … excuses) that I didn’t get around to posting about it yet. But here we are, better late than never!

This is the latest offering from Sue Monk Kidd, and it has been very well received. It is a Heather’s Pick at Chapters/Indigo stores in Canada, and an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 featured title as well. I really loved her book The Secret Life of Bees, which I read one summer when I was home from university, and I liked – didn’t love, but liked – The Mermaid Chair. So I was eager to pick up a copy of The Invention of Wings. Plus, I had read a brief write-up about it in a magazine – possibly Chatelaine – and I was intrigued.

The plot centres around two women – one white and one black – over 35 years in the early 19th century. On Sarah Grimke’s 11th birthday, she is horrified to be presented with her own slave – 10-year-old Handful. The story that follows – with each girl narrating alternating chapters – is a journey through the turbulent, racially-charged American South in the 1800s.

It’s a risk, as this great New York Times review notes, for a white, Southern writer (even in the 21st century) to take on the voice of a slave, but I think the chapters written in Handful’s voice are the strongest in the book. But this isn’t the only big issue Kidd tackles. The Invention of Wings also explores two very different mother-daughter relationships, feminist issues, religion, love and social justice inequalities.

All of these are ambitious topics on their own, so together, the book sometimes feels a little bit heavy. I was discussing it with my friend Erin this afternoon (she just finished it) and we agreed that we both had trouble at times with the uneven pacing. The beginning, where Sarah and Handful grow into young women together, is pacey and short – in fact, it’s over much too soon. The later chapters – where Sarah and her sister Angelina campaign for equality – are interesting and important, but lack the pace and punch of the early pages.

The character of Sarah is a fictionalized version of the real Sarah Grimke, and much of the later events of the book are based on Kidd’s meticulous research into her life. This might be why it feels like it drags a bit here – it is obvious that Kidd wanted to do this remarkable woman justice, and she probably had much more real-life detail to weave in from Sarah’s adult life than her childhood.

It’s a heavy read (because the subject matter is heavy), but I think the fact that I finished it two weeks ago and it’s still on my mind is a good sign. If you like Kidd’s work, or you’re interested in novels about race and the South (The Help springs to mind), you’ll want to give this one a try.