Good Reads

Good Reads

Good fiction is supposed to draw us in.  We approach a book as a potential adventure.  We peruse book jackets and back cover blurbs to figure out where the book intends to take us in our minds.  Once chosen, we bring it to our favorite story-reading spot and from our comfortable chairs or desks or bedtime perches we absorb the transporting words.  If the magic is there, we are taken on a fantastic journey.

If our reading spot just happens to be the same location the story take place in.....well, that's just about as good as it can get!  You automatically shift from being a passive observer of events to an active participant in the plot!  Well, not really...but it certainly feels like it.  

Shivering on the same street corner where the heroine meets her destiny, lurking in the cafe that the villain hatched his nefarious

scheme, sweeping through the palace corridors that the revolutionaries stormed.....this goes beyond magic.  It places flesh on the bones, colors on the curtains and expands both the reading and the travel experience. 

This page is dedicated to "in situ" reading opportunities, (Here's the archeologist in me!) books that illuminate a destination and in turn have the destination inform the story. You'll find my favorites here, and in the not-to-distant future I'll make a call for reader recommendations.  If my tech skills develop to the level of....well, any level above water...I hope to develop this page in a much more interactive way.  But in the meantime, consider a visit to the bookstore.  And then the travel agent. 

The hardest part will be waiting until you land to crack the cover!

A Nervous Splendor, by Frederic Morton

Before traveling to Vienna my expectations of the city were all filtered through a foggy lens of elegance and sophistication.  The glories of the Hapsburg monarchy, Beethoven’s music and classic art collections floated through my imagination rather loosely and in tiny, shiny snippets.  

My Vienna read!

This book pulled the fragments together.  It depicts only a ten-month window of time, but this portion of a year was a hum-dinger in the city’s history.  This was the year that Sigmund Freud started writing his theories, Gustav Klimt struggled with public acceptance of his art style, Theodor Herzl was actually a dreamy playwright, Gustav Mahler became obsessed with old bones, the progressive prince Rudolph committed a murder-suicide, and Adolph Hitler was born.  And all of this was taking place within the context of an incredible economic transition overseen by political leaders who wanted to stifle the growing socialist movement. 

So yeah, it’s a jam-packed read!  It certainly appealed to the history buff in me, but I think what I valued most was the author’s effort to present the city of Vienna as a character itself.  It seemed that all the famous personalities were unconsciously creating a composite Viennese psyche, which in turn then inspired significant events. 

It’s a great book to read if you like ambiance and stage setting.  There’s no grand mystery to solve, or dramatic plot to follow.  It’s all about bringing you to a particular place and time where some incredible things happened to some very interesting people.  And the influence of this year on the personalities involved can still be seen as you walk the modern streets of their city.  An excellent book to read while you’re there!

Chronicle In Stone, by Ismail Kadare

My Albanian read!  Set in the southern mountaintop village of Gjirokaster during the Second World War, it details the experiences of the residents as seen through the eyes of a young boy.  The country transitioned rather violently through multiple political systems and allegiances during this time and the story highlights the confusion and tension that even small communities encountered. 

My Albanian read!

I visited the now-city during my time in Albania.  The castle fortifications are still dominant.  Many of the roofs are still tiled with stone.  The childhood homes of the author, as well as the infamous Enver Hoxha, still stand.  The cobbled streets are truly beautiful, but the blood and sweat and emotions that the book's characters experienced on these same stones made them look different to me.  My memories of that place are now a mix of my own and those of the characters. 

The legacy of this time period is still a major influence on daily life and culture throughout the country.  The host family I was staying with in Tirana gave the book to me as a gift and it inspired some great conversations with the man of the house, who was was born at approximately the same time as the story's main character.  Reading the book in their home gave me a great opportunity to ask questions from primary sources!!!