By Karen Gershowitz
“What a kick in the passport!” Mom hooted after finishing Karen Gershowitz’s Travel Mania: Stories of Wanderlust. “It’s fun and educational!” (She’s outside turning handsprings. Don’t tell anyone, okay?)
“But Mom,” says The Level-Headed One. “You say that about every travel book!”
Ever see someone try to stop hand-springing halfway through?
“I do not!” barks Mom.
Okay, fine. Whatevs, says I, Kimber the Magnificent. But tell me, Mom. What makes this book so splendiferous?
Well. Buckle up. Cuz here we go:
“You Are There”
Travel Mania offers a hefty dose of not only travel but also memoir as the author explains her passion for travel and adventure. Gershowitz is “inquisitive by nature” and “a market researcher by profession.” The two combine to form a captivating “You Are There” narrative peppered with wry wit and good ‘ole fashioned storytelling.
Describing her climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, for example, the author dead-pans that if she had gone as slowly as advised, “Snails would be rushing past me.” And “By the time I left for the airport (for Tanzania), my duffel bag looked nine months pregnant.”
Told in chronological order by a self-described “wander-around-and-explore traveller,” the book opens in the 1950s with the author’s strained relationship with her father. It winds down in 2020 with Travel in the Time of COVID: London. Every chapter offers informational tidbits, observations, or personal reflections. The text moves along briskly and includes destinations in the States, too.
From tackling Alaskan glaciers and scrambling around the Galapagos Islands to boarding an elephant in Thailand, every chapter is marinated in the author’s zest for her “lifelong addiction to travel.” Ditto exploring continents, countries, and cultures. Gershowitz also doesn’t pull any punches describing disappointments, anxieties and qualms, or trips that turned out to be, shall we say, less-than-hoped-for (Hi, Paris in June!).
Standout chapters we found especially moving or otherwise effervescent include:
- Her Final Gift: Puerto Rico
- Brigadoon Revisited: Crete
- Marooned: Galapagos Islands; and
- Berlin Revisited: Germany
In the pages of this delightful tome you’ll “armchair travel” to and experience:
- An open air music festival in Morocco
- Zero air-conditioning in a Parisian heat wave
- Intense security measures in Sao Paulo
- “Stinky fruit” in Malaysia
- Trying to get good trip info., pre-Internet
- A Shangri La-ish beach in Venezuela
- Kmart in Singapore (No, really)
- Corrupt cops in Moscow
Unlike most travel books, Travel Mania spans not only many destinations, it also spans a significant chuck of time. Like, about seven decades. So readers “of a certain age” will connect with major events and/or personalities from yesteryear. Like the Cuban Missile Crisis. Jimmy Carter. Good Morning, Vietnam. The fall of the Berlin Wall. Perestroika. It offers a perspective not often seen in this genre.
- Told in the first person, this book’s 350 pages chronicle numerous trips and adventures worldwide. As such, it may be over-ambitious for a single volume. (A body can only handle so many time zones, jet lag, and trips through Customs, etc. It gets tiring after a while.)
- There are lots of details in this book. Some readers may find thorough descriptions of bartering for good and services, interactions with taxi drivers, people-watching, attire choices, or the type of table settings and drinks available at a local bar or hotel fascinating. Others may find it teetering on the rim edge of tedious.
Even so, the author’s enthusiasm for the “deliciousness of exploring a new place” is contagious. So is this lively, absorbing read. By the way. Where exactly is Tonga, anyway?
Hey, Kim. Do you remember where I stashed my carry-on? (“Askin’ for a friend.”)