Galley Gossip: The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 – book giveaway!


I have an announcement to make, a very big one. But first I must tell you about a wonderful book, The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010: True stories from around the world, edited by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. It’s an anthology full of fascinating travel tales by interesting women from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or where you’re going – or not going – there’s something for everyone in this book. And I’m giving copies away to two lucky Gadling readers! (Details at the bottom of this post)

It’s the kind of book that makes you want to travel, or at least go to your local Pakistani restaurant and order the chicken haleem extra spicy, which is exactly what I did right after reading The Heat Seeker, by Alison Stein Wellner. My mother, who also read the book, couldn’t stop laughing over the phone as she recounted the story, Desert Queen, written by Diane Caldwell. I don’t think she’ll be planning a trip to the desert anytime soon. And neither one of us could get over Design a Vagina, written by Johanna Gohmann, which caused my mother to shriek, “I would never!” as if I actually thought she might.

Travelers Tales writes…

This best-selling, award-winning series presents the finest accounts of women who have traveled to the ends of the earth to discover new places, peoples – and themselves. The common threads connecting the stories are a woman’s perspective and lively storytelling to make the reader laugh, cry, wish she were there, or be glad she wasn’t. From climbing a volcano in Ecuador to running a kennel for pariah dogs in India to helping prepare meals in Iran, the points of view and perspectives are global and the themes eclectic, including stories that encompass spiritual growth, hilarity and misadventure, high adventure, romance, solo journeys, stories of service to humanity, family travel, and encounters with exotic cuisine.

In The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010:

  • A search for the perfect wave in New Zealand provides a lesson in love
  • Curiosity leads to an understanding of political activism and human rights in Burma
  • A childless American is adopted by a six-year-old and becomes part of the family in Italy
  • Cultural understanding deepens in surprising ways through language lessons in
    Vietnam
  • On a fact-finding mission in Afghanistan, a retired professor learns that peace is
    everything
    Zandvoort
  • A day on a nude beach in the Netherlands gives a self-described “prude” a new appreciation of body types, and comfort with her own
  • …and much more.

So…can you guess who the “prude” on the nude beach might be? ME! That’s right, my essay, An Ode To B-Cups, is also included in the book! (Read an excerpt HERE.) I’ll even autograph the books….if you want. Just let me know.

HOW TO WIN:

  • To enter, simply leave a comment below – or better yet, share a travel tip! – whichever you prefer.
  • The comment must be left before April 2, 2010 at 5pm Eastern time
  • You may enter only once.
  • Two winners will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Two Grand Prize Winners will receive a free, autographed copy of Women’s Best Travel Writing 2010, edited by Stephanie Griest
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Book is valued at $17.95
  • Click here for complete Official Rules

GOOD LUCK!

Photos courtesy of Travelers Tales and Photorisma

Mexico and being “Mexican Enough”

As the scare over the swine flu escalates and the border regions grow increasingly violent, it’s about time we put some perspective on what exactly is going on in Mexico. Just two months ago, I contemplated whether or not Mexico was a dangerous travel destination, and the thread of comments to the article sparked even more interest for me to see and experience Mexico for myself.

I’m talking about the heart of Mexico, mind you, not the touristy coastal towns or culturally rich Oaxaca. I want to see the part that few talk about, the REAL Mexico, where the social and political struggles are transparent, and the people are living and breathing Mexico in all its raw glory.

That’s exactly why I picked up Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s recent travel memoir, Mexican Enough. Having seen Griest read from this book last year, read and reviewed her other books (Around the Bloc and 100 Places Every Woman Should Go), and spoken with Griest over the phone, I felt I could identify with Griest as a solo female traveler paving her own path in wide open world. If I can’t right now travel to Mexico myself, I wanted to read about it from someone I could trust.
Griest’s own journey to Mexico took place over the course of several trips to various parts of the country between 2004-2006. While she had been so daring to travel to such countries as Russia, China, and Cuba, Griest had an overriding fear of her half-motherland. As a bi-racial child growing up in Mexico, Griest felt she was never quite Mexican enough, and opted to avoid traveling to Mexico altogether until she realized she was running away from her own half-reflection.

Mexican Enough covers such potent topics as being bi-racial, social politics, gender roles, and immigration. Griest is able to confront her Mexican heritage and accept that she is, in fact, Mexican enough. She enters parts of Mexico during a Red Alert, witnesses the post-election riots, and investigates the disturbing violence against gay and women rights movements throughout the country.

I really enjoyed Griest’s ability to weave together these different threads into an interesting — at times humorous, at others heartbreaking — tale. There’s much to be learned from reading Griest’s memoir, but most of all, Mexico clearly remains a fascinating and culturally rich place that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

A friend of mine is a traveling nurse and has been spending the past three years on the Arizona-Mexico border, witnessing the devastating drug-related violence there. When I asked him if I could go down with him some time to see it for myself, he responded, “I don’t care if you interested in the air rescue that saves lives, the drug cartels, or the human casualties at the border, but the pain and suffering that goes with it would probably be enough for a normal American to go crazy. It’s not worth going down there for the story. It’s only worth it if you’re willing to risk your life to see just how precious life is and how peaceful it could/should be but is not.”

Luckily, Griest’s latest memoir helped to satisfy my thirst for the real Mexico. I’ll wait for my chance to see Mexico one day when it’s just a little safer.

Travel Read: 100 Places Every Woman Should Go

I never knew there could be a book so thoughtful and inspiring for women as this one. Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s second travel book, which lists far more than just 100 Places Every Woman Should Go, is truly an encyclopedia for women travelers. It’s the kind of book that could never have existed fifty years ago, but is so refreshing that free-spirited, female travelers should feel grateful that it exists now, and fully prepared for that next trip into the wide, wonderful world.

Griest’s great book is packed with helpful historical information, inspiring stories, and travel tips. It’s broken up into nine sections — my favorite being the first: “Powerful Women and Their Places in History.” There’s so much worth digesting in each locale described. For instance, I had no idea that the word “lesbian” came from the birthplace of Sappho (Lesbos, Greece). Griest fills each description with great travel tips that often include specific street addresses for particularly noteworthy sights.What I like most about the 100 places she chooses is that she shies away from identifying places that every woman obviously dreams of traveling to, like Venice, Rome, and Paris. Instead, she paves a new path for women, encouraging us to visit Japan’s 88 sacred temples or stroll through the public squares of Samarkand, one of the world’s oldest cities in Uzbekistan.

Griest does not limit her list to concrete or singular places. Sometimes, she finds a way to take us to virtual spots like the Museum of Menstruation or creates lists like “Best Bungee Jumping Locales,” “Sexiest Lingerie Shops,” or “Places to Pet Fuzzy Animals.” These 100 “places” are really all-encompassing, and Griest manages to take us on an imaginative journey around the world, packing all her feminine know-how into each description.

I did find, occasionally, that there were some places missing from some of the identified places in her list. For instance, I was baffled as to why two Russian writers were on Griest’s list of “Famous Women Writers and Their Creative Nooks,” but Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Jane Austen were absent. I was additionally confused that cooking classes in India and Thailand were not on the list of “Culinary Class Destinations.”

Griest’s opinions of places are somewhat biased, too. While she does a fairly good job covering the globe, a single locale in French Polynesia or the South Pacific is missing, and some places like Oaxaca, Angkor Wat, and New York are mentioned several times. Her college town of Austin landed on the list, but places like Budapest and Cairo are never acknowledged.

With every list, however, there is bound to be some bias and some personal flair and choice involved, and Griest’s original and creative sensibilities are still well-worth reading about. The great thing about this book is that you can flip to a place description, be perfectly entertained and inspired, and then tuck the book away until the next time you feel compelled to read about the places you can go. Or, you can read it in one sitting like I did and be completely blown away by the amazing places in this one world that it’s hard to imagine why we live in one city for so long and not just pack our bags and get out there and see some if not all of it.

Click here to read my review of Griest’s first travel book, “Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.” My review of Griest’s third travel book, “Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines” is forthcoming, along with my interview with the author in early January. Feel free to jot me an email (Brenda DOT Yun AT weblogsinc DOT com) if you have a question for Stephanie.


Click the images to learn about the most unusual museums in the world — featuring everything from funeral customs, to penises, to velvet paintings, to stripping.


Travel read: Around the Bloc

I stumbled upon Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s writing on a stopover in New York City. She was reading from her third and most recent travel-related book, Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines, at Book Culture near Columbia University. I was immediately struck by her engaging use of language and her savvy presence. It’s a pleasant sight to behold a young, female traveler and writer who is curious about the world and daring in her attempts to understand it.

Her reading finished, I bought her debut book, Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana, and when I asked her to sign my book I told her I too was an aspiring travel writer, working on a memoir of my own. “Can’t wait to read about your travels someday,” she wrote in curly script on the title page. I have since been in correspondence with Griest, who has agreed to have me interview her in early January. Until then, I plan to review her three books for Gadling. Here is the first review, of her debut book on her travels around the Communist bloc of Russia, China, and Cuba.
Griest’s three-part memoir documents her experiences in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana during the late 1990’s, and it does so with humor and humility. It took nearly three months for me to make my way through Around the Bloc — not because it was a slow read, but because I wanted to gain an understanding of the three places she writes about in her memoir. Russia, China, and Cuba have long intrigued me as culturally rich places with politically backward power struggles.

Similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, where the traveler’s experiences are summarized by culturally specific activities, Griest’s journey around the bloc are punctuated by drinking, dining, and dancing:”…while Russians bonded over drink and Chinese over dinner, Cubans connected through dance.” Griest’s youthfulness and occasional naiveté captures just how eye-opening one’s travels abroad can be. It is clear by the end of the memoir just how much her experiences in these countries reshaped her values and shook the foundation upon which her life had been seemingly secure.

The tragic Russian Mafiya, Chinese propaganda, and Cuban Revolution stories swirling in Griest’s memoir make her self-discovery that much more palpable. Griest navigates the socialist and political struggle of being in the bloc, and walks away not at all unscathed. Rather, she sets her original assumptions straight again, allowing herself to understand her place in the world that much better.

Of the three parts presented in her debut novel, I must say the most enlightening was the first on her experiences in Russia. It seemed that here, in Moscow, Griest experiences the most profound awakening. I sense these early times, fresh from her undergraduate studies in Austin, that Griest transforms from a hippie wannabe to a truth-seeking, life-living journalist and hearty traveler.

If the popular Eat, Pray, Love is any comparison, I feel Griest’s Around the Bloc far surpasses Gilbert in all the categories I hold dearest to a literary travel writer. Griest masters the art of language and humor; she is finely atuned to her youthful innocence (and, at times, ignorance); just as in life, Griest does not tie her three parts together into a perfect red bow. Instead, there is an imperfection that permeates through her memoir that is raw and real — not just real, but realistic. If Gilbert’s travel memoir satisfied you just enough, then Griest’s will take your breath away. It will teach you things you didn’t know before, but more than this, it will make you get off your couch and out into the wide world, experiencing things you once dreamed of but now can see with your own two eyes.

My review of Griest guidebook, 100 Places Every Woman Should Go, is forthcoming in about a week. Should you pick up any of Griest’s three offerings during the holidays and have a question you’d like me to ask her during my interview with her in early January, feel free to shoot me an email (brendayun@gmail.com).

Women Traveling Solo: An Online Conversation by the Best

I came across this travelers’ bounty on the Rambling Traveler. At World Hum this week there has been an on-line conversation between accomplished women travelers Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Liz Sinclair, Terry Ward and Catherine Watson. The four women are presenting their experiences about traveling alone as a female.

Each entry of the eleven is a mini-essay of sorts that turns on the subject broached in the essay or essays before it. The result is a wonderful blend of thought, musings and descriptions of traveling experiences with some how-tos mixed in. In the first entry Terry Ward describes her first solo bus ride when the man sitting next to her in Jordan propositioned her while the woman, increasingly agitated with the conversation, burst out “He’s my husband.” The next essay turns on the idea of playing or not playing the female card and the complexities of that one. The third essay Liz Sinclair elaborates even further on the idea of the feminine card and recounts using various techniques of flirting, crying or, in once, case breaking a cab driver’s jaw when he physically tried to get more money out of her. I found their conversations fascinating.

For women, whether you are a solo traveler or not, you’ll recognize situations in your every day life where you’ve perhaps felt a similar way or have been in a similar situation even if you’ve barely left your hometown. For men, these women’s conversation is a wonderfully rich glimpse in what it’s like being female–the good and the bad. I would say the good out weighs the bad since the four continue to ramble across the globe.