Better reading about it than visiting.
30 September 2009
I don't read a lot of travel books, unless they're by British humorist Tony Hawks, in which case I am required to. But other than that? They don't usually appeal. Travel is the one thing, weirdly, that I prefer to do rather than reading about it. (Although I am not a very good traveler; I'm the person next to you in the airport fidgeting, pacing, and generally making herself sick about possible missed connections and oversold planes.)
Crown Journey series? I love these books. They're slim little nonfiction titles written about various locations by authors who have a history with or knowledge of the location. Ray Blount Jr. wrote Feet on the Street, about New Orleans; Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fugitives and Refugees, about Portland, Oregon. The book in the series that I've been listening to this week is Alex Kotlowitz's Never a City so Real, about Chicago. And, although Chicago is my least favorite big city (that I've seen, anyway--no offense, Chicagoans), I'm finding the book very interesting.*
Kotlowitz is an investigative (some might call it journalistic; I call it investigative) author whose earlier books are There Are No Children Here** and The Other Side of the River, which are both fantastic reads about sad topics (poverty and children in the projects in the former; an ugly crime and racial disparity in the latter). And he brings a clear-sighted but still sympathetic feeling to this book, describing Chicago as a city of contrasts and home to many distinct personalities, including the author Nelson Algren, labor leader Ed Sadlowski, and mural painter Milton Reed. It's a thoughtful, vividly descriptive, and short book on a big city, and it made me feel much more warmly about Chicago than any of my trips there have. I'd highly recommend it.
*Sorry, no quotes today. When I listen to this book, I'm usually up to my elbows in dirty dishes, and don't want to take the time to write anything down.
**No kidding: this is one of the best books I've ever read.