Thursday, October 12, 2006

I enjoy karaoke nights more than anyone should. I get that. I wish I could impart to the people who roll their eyes when I mention karaoke (or, at least, at the frequency with which I mention it) the enjoyment that comes from standing on stage at 1:45 a.m. and having an epiphany. In this case, the epiphany was that yes, it does make a lot more sense to face these kinds of things with a sense of "poise and rationality" than it would to face them with "poisoned rationality."

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A couple of weeks ago I was walking around Borders trying to find a novel and having very little luck. I've always been a pain in the ass at video stores, libraries, and book stores because I go into option paralysis at the overwhelming number of choices available to me, and I either stand around dithering until someone or something forces me to make a decision, or I simply flee. But the last few times I've wandered into a literature section, I actully find myself having trouble finding anything I can imagine buying and then reading. I'm not sure what to make of this, but I hope I snap out of it. This time was no different.

After failing in fiction, I took one last look at the display tables and noticed the series of "Best American x of 2006" collections. I browsed several of them and for some reason (probably having to do with the presence of David Sedaris and P.J. O'Rourke and a general feeling that this is a genre I should have tried long ago) I picked up x = Travel Writing. I didn't know what to expect, but after finishing what I had been reading at the time, I dove in.

The bottom line: I loved it. Out of the 26 stories anthologized, at least 20 were winners--tales of fishing in Mongolia, skiing in South Korea, seeking out seasonal soups in Ecuador, retracing the footsteps of a 19th-century Scottish explorer in the Libyan Sahara, and sailing across the Atlantic in 25 (not-so-)easy steps. The tales followed an octogenarian down the rapids of the Grand Canyon, followed an American expat leading "first contact" trips into the Papaun interior, and sought out the tallest man in the world in a Ukranian village. Perhaps best of all, they came one after another--the stories more fun in juxtaposition than they would have been individually.

The stories made me want to go all sorts of places, of course, as travel writing is probably always designed to do. OK, a few of these stories make you not want to go certain places--fishing in Mongolia immediately comes to my mind, but several stories particularly decry modern air travel in general as well. The story that most made me want to do things was George Saunders' unexpectedly positive story of his trip to Dubai. Not only did it make me want to go to Dubai, but it also made me want to read more George Saunders. So conceivably, the travel book even knocked me out of my fiction reading rut.

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I'm not the type of person who is inclined to look at things that are happening generally to everyone around and assume that they are things that the world is specifically doing to me. But if I were, I'd be inclined to think that the world is telling me that if I'm going to largely avoid winters starting next year, it's at least going to give me a doozy to go out on. As the bold text above this post indicates, it's freakin' October 12th. Right now in Ann Arbor, we are experiencing a snow squall. This is not cool. It also means I have to remember how to deal with winter, and not do things like, when leaving the house to walk over to this coffee shop, carry around a cold soda. Moron. I think my rationality may have been poisoned.

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