Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Winter has come to Michigan. The temperatures have dropped and the first snow is on the ground. It's time to light the fire and curl up with a good book - which means it's time for:

Travel Oyster's Great Books II

Notre Dame of Paris
(The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
By Victor Hugo
Penguin Books, 1978
493 pages. 

The first time I saw Paris, I carried with me my now-faded copy of Notre Dame of Paris - Hugo's 1831 paean to one of the world's great gothic cathedrals. Set in 1482, this historical masterpiece is still a perfect introduction to Paris and to the architecture of its magnificent cathedral. It was also Hugo's highly successful plea for the restoration of the cathedral and other gothic monuments throughout France. In Hugo's tale, history is seen not through the image of great events, but rather through the desires, needs and passions of its people. Around his characters - including Quasimodo, Esmeralda, the loveless antagonist Archdeacon Claude Frollo and, above all, the cathedral itself - Hugo weaves a spellbinding tale of intrigue and romance that pits rich against poor and good against evil.

A Traveller In Italy
by H. V. Morton
Dodd, Mead, 1982
636 pages.

"I'm sure you've read H. V. Morton's A Traveller In Italy," wrote a faithful Travel Oyster reader. I had not although I have visited many of the towns in northern Italy that Morton writes about in this long and always fascinating book. Morton begins in Milan and leisurely makes his way through the regions of Lombardy, Emilia, Venezia and Tuscany. Along the way, Italian history comes alive as Morton turns silent ruins and ancient churches into places where love and death played out on a grand scale. Morton had a knack for knowing or finding just what every traveler wants: the treasure behind the locked door, the fabulous dinner in an unheralded town, the forgotten masterpiece in a country chapel. This is not surprising since Morton first came to fame as a young journalist who scooped the official Times of London reporter during the coverage of the opening of King Tut's Tomb in Egypt in 1923. A Traveller In Italy was written in 1964, but like Italy herself, it's a timeless classic to be savored slowly.

by Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno
DK Publishing, Inc., 1998
168 pages.

In Paris and Pisa, a delicious crusty baguette or a chewy pane casalingo is a daily pleasure. Turn down almost any street, it seems, and you'll be tempted by the sights and scents of freshly-baked bread. Bread prices are regulated by law so good basic bread is inexpensive and for that reason, almost no one in France or Italy, including me, bakes bread. When I'm back in the States, however, and longing for an earthy rustic bread, I often make my own. And when I do, this is the book I most often turn to. It is the first one I ever bought and although I now have a shelf full of bread books, Ultimate Bread is still my favorite. It has beautiful photos, clear explanations and wonderful, easy to follow recipes that will fill your kitchen with the flavors of Europe, America and the Middle East. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced bread maker, this book has something for you. (If you don't want to bake or a trip abroad is not on your agenda this year, then order online some of Ann Arbor's justly famous Zingerman Bakehouse bread.)

A Sand County Almanac
Oxford University Press, 1949
92 pages.

The pleasures of travel are often associated with places beyond our everyday existence. In these delightful and beautifully-written essays, the author takes us on a wondrous voyage of discovery into the natural world. For his journey, Leopold travels no farther than the fields and woods surrounding his farm in Sand County, Wisconsin. Nonetheless, he finds there a world apart, which he describes in twelve lovely essays - one for each month of the year. It's a book to read and reread and one that the great Thoreau himself might envy.  

by David Sedaris
Bay Back Books, 2001
272 pages.

I was lucky enough to hear David Sedaris read a selection from this book in a Paris bookstore. After his reading in English, the book's translator reread it in French. Now by the time a translator is finished with a piece, she has reworked it several times and knows it inside out. In spite of this, Sedaris' translator had trouble reading the story because she couldn't stop laughing.

The book is divided into two parts: the first contains hilarious essays about Sedaris' life in North Carolina with his dysfunctional family. The second part, appropriately entitled "Deux," deals with his time in France with his partner Hugh and Sedaris' attempts to learn French. The essays have titles such as, See You Again, Yesterday; Jesus Shaves; and I'll Eat What He's Wearing. Anyone who has ever struggled to express themselves in a foreign language with a limited vocabulary will identify with Sedaris, and his irreverent and pointed prose is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud.


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Some of these sound good and I'm not familiar with a few of them. The Italy book is new to me, and I'll have to glom onto that one!

    David Sedaris is from this area, and he is a riot. My first introduction to him was on NPR years ago when he read from his "Santa Diaries," and I was on my way to work in the mornings. I couldn't get out of the car to head into the building for work because I wanted to hear the end of what he was saying. He's hysterical. He sometimes writes for the New Yorker too, and I'll always smile to see his articles.

    The bread book sounds delicious--I used to bake all our breads, and I don't have this book--I'll have to look for it. Thanks for the good recommendations.

  2. I have enjoyed your postings and will look forward to reading the book your reviewed about Italy.

  3. I didn't discover David Sedaris until this past summer, when I found one of his books in the house we were renting. Within minutes of beginning When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I was laughing so hard that I sometimes couldn't finish a sentence.

  4. Good choices (though I've never gotten into the Sedaris parade), nicely presented.

  5. tks for keeping me informed ... always interesting ... A.


Thanks for your comments.