Why I travel as much in books as I do on planes

granada-alhambra_19-137430When it comes to traveling, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.

The experiences that you gain stay with you for life. The dingiest of hotels, the smelliest of trains and the most bizarre experiences become part of the fabric of who you are, growing only more legendary with time.

It seems strange then, that I’d even consider comparing my ‘book traveling’ with my ‘real traveling.’ But I can. As a traveler, I’ve stood before the Eiffel tower, seen Mount Everest and floated in the Dead Sea, but each of these things had one thing in common: I experienced them as me. And I’ll tell you something, being me is pretty ordinary. I’ve done it my whole life; it’s not very magical.

That’s why when I travel through books I travel as much as I do on planes. In books I’ve raised my children in Paris and lived in war-ravaged Kabul. I’ve been an early Australian pioneer, and I’ve risen from the deepest slums of India. I may not have lived their lives in reality, but through them, I’ve experienced much more than I ever could have on my own.reading_28819

And the marriage of the two is perfect, because as I walk down the cobblestone streets of Düsseldorf, I feel the shadow of a woman over me. As she glances into a shop window, I sense her fear that the Nazi’s grip is growing tighter and it becomes more than just a town, and I am more than just me.

Finding the Impossible

20130905_190506-1I didn’t know the author. I didn’t know the title. I didn’t even know what it was about. All I had was a vague memory of a picture that had an escalator in it and the knowledge that I had loved that book.

It was a children’s book that my grandparents had owned. They had a whole collection of books that they kept for us when we came over, and I remembered the names of almost all of them, except this one.

I was determined to hunt it down, but how do you find something when you have no information? I scoured Google. I even signed up (it cost me $2) to a website on which a team of people will use all their book-knowledge to try to find a book for you based on the most limited information.

The escalator page! The only thing I could vaguely remember.

The escalator page! The only semi-clear thing I could remember.

I kid you not, all I knew was that it was a children’s book that probably pre-dated the eighties, was possibly about going to work, possibly had a train station in it, and had a picture of an escalator in what was possibly a department store. Try typing that into Google!

So, imagine my elation when, after a couple of years, I found the book during a Google search. I recognized the cover immediately and wasted no time in ordering a secondhand copy.

I’m now convinced that I can find anything online!

Do you have any long-lost books that you’ve been trying to find for ages?

I buy books like they read themselves…

booksThere are two things that I find almost impossible to resist at the shops: Shoes and books.

I’ve had to be stern with myself about the shoe thing. I’ve learnt (I think) to stop buying shoes that are so uncomfortable that I can’t walk in them (even if they are, oh-so-pretty) and I’ve learnt that there are only so many pairs of shoes that you can wear in one year.

The book thing, though, I still struggle with. When I was young I read a lot about children at the turn of the century who saw books as rare treasures, and I think that contributed to my love of them. There is something so precious and alive about a good book. A childhood book can stay with you forever like nothing else can. (I am of course talking about real books here. Don’t even get me started on E-books!)

Suffice to say, I have a large book collection and recently I had to pause and take stock. How many books have I bought on a passionate whim and never read? As I counted them up, I realized there are quite a few. Many of them, still on my ‘to be read’ list are pictured above.

So I’m going to try to stop buying for a while, until I’ve actually read what I have!

Do you have a stack of books that you ‘just had to have’ at the time, but that you haven’t read yet? What are they?

Swimming to the Surface – Kristin Billerbeck

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I think I like Kristin Billerbeck – but I’m not sure. She’s one of those authors I find difficult to pigeon hole. This is the 4th book of hers that I’ve read.

I really enjoyed What a Girl Wants. I found it refreshingly down to earth and honest, and I’ve re-read it a couple of times. I then bought the two sequels to it, and they didn’t impress me so much.

What I love about Billerbeck is that she writes about real-life issues in a down to earth, honest and often humorous way. What I find difficult, is that she manages to combine that with something superficial and cliché, almost reminiscent of a television drama. These things are somewhat paradoxical, which is why I find her hard to pin down.

This novel, Swimming to the Surface, deals with a real and somewhat confronting issue: A woman who has become disillusioned with the Church because of the way in which they dealt with her in the breakdown of her marriage to her legalistic, mentally unstable, and, as it turns out, homosexual husband. These are heavy topics that do make for a fascinating story. But, somehow, Billerbeck still manages to give the plot a sense of story-book perfection, with many scenes that, to me, seemed unrealistic and cliché.

From what I’ve seen, this book has had quite good reviews, but to be honest, I’m not a fan.

Oh, and it’s the first book I read as an e-book. Probably didn’t help!