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Shelf Life – Jan. 31

Better than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers,
@SPL: 88.8032 Bette

You will no doubt recognize some of the contributors to this book – Joyce Carol Oates, Frances Mayes, Charles Finch, Alexander McCall-Smith … the list is extensive. The novelists all have very distinctive voices in storytelling, so I was surprised when some of my favourite travel stories contained in this volume were by writers I had never read before – but fully intend to investigate now.

Keija Parssinen’s sweetly melancholic tale of feeling homesick for the place where she grew up resonates very strongly with me, even though she grew up in a desert, and I by the ocean.

A rather more adventurous tale that takes place by the ocean is Steven Hall’s story about rescuing a shark, by hand – twice – and how the better-than-fiction act helped him resolve a personal crisis (because after a bare-handed shark rescue, everything else must seem easy by comparison, I would think.)

Isabel Allende’s story about how an unsettling experience in India brought her back from the brink of grief-born despair is deeply moving, and author Pico Iyer’s objective look at the chaotic paradise that is Havana, Cuba, and all its paradoxes is yet very personal too. It is a story that grew into a book which I am now compelled to read, the short account having been so poignant.

It is very helpful, therefore, that each story is preceded by a short bio of each author and a bibliography of books (fiction and nonfiction) that they have written.

In other words, in this book of short stories there will be something to suit anyone, and more likely than not, many of the stories will haunt their readers long afterwards and may surprise and inspire them to try new authors. Or perhaps this little tome of vast and varied experiences will inspire a change in travel habits, to be less a tourist and instead do as Bryce Courtenay suggests in Getting Travel Dirt under your Fingernails, “to feel the personal thrill … of standing on the top of the mountain or some similar experience … where all our senses are employed and are rewarded.”  Yes, please!

Find Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers, and other books reviewed in this column, at spl.bibliocommons.com under the tag “shelf life reviewed.”

– Robyn Godfrey, librarian

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