Reviewing The Best Women's Travel Writing 2009

The Best Womens Travel Writing 2009
The Best Womens Travel Writing 2009

I don't normally buy these sort of books, and thanks to a friendly backpacker in Fiji, I didn't have to. Why don't I buy comprehensive anthologies of my favorite genre? Because it's not enough.

Five pages about a person's trip in Mexico just gets me in the mood; it doesn't take me there. Maybe I've read too many full narratives to now have an intolerance of anything shorter. Maybe I'm missing the point of anthologies - to sample other authors or witness the best of the best.

All I know is I read this on a beach in Fiji, swaying in a hammock under palm fronds and rustling coconuts. I could enjoy any book in that setting. And though I found a few stories lacking the substance, syntax and the snazzy wit I prefer, there were enough great tales between these covers to make the book worth lugging 7,300 miles home. Let me tell about a few of 'em!

Mexican Rain

by Pamela Alma Bass

In a town full of "whispered secrets," love and loss are inevitable.

My book sunning itself
My book sunning itself

Maybe it's my interest in Mexico. Maybe the fact that Pamela made me laugh out loud. But I think one of the main attractions I had to this tale was the perspective of the author and her choice to not describe a place just as everyone can. She took her personal connotations of San Miguel de Allende and illustrated its energy by taking the reader on a journey through her heart palpitations without the plain Jane explanations of where you are and what's going on. She assumes you can figure out the essentials between the lines of her prose.

It may come with the territory of exposing quite a bit of yourself in your writing. Pamela speaks to the reader as though they understand her sarcasm - just like an old friend would. Wouldn't it seem weird to talk about a romantic evening with a studly, foreign man and then hold back in a bubble of formality? I guess that's my interest; I like people who open up and tell it the way they experience it, not the way others expect to hear it.

Big Cats, No Guns

by Laurie McAndish King

In Africa, life is good - when you're not on the menu.

This story was much more about the substance than the voice. It might be the fact that she tells a relatable experience of a bush walk, but I certainly know I chuckled at this line:

'A good way of testing the freshness of dung, is to thrust your hand into the centre of it. If the dung is fresh, it will be warm inside.' Right. Life I'm ever going to employ this methodology. They didn't even provide a chart correlating temperature to time elapsed to distance traveled.

That's silly, Laurie. About as silly as the advice she relayed about walking safaris and that dreaded face-off between quivering biped and monstrously large beast. Standing your ground without a gun in your party sounds like a fool's direction, but that's the rule, so they say. And her character of Maureen with the new kicks and bright pink windbreaker walking around the African bush gave me a great visual. Illustrating her ironic presence there was as ominous as writing in a handgun in the story opener: something had to happen to that woman, especially since she apparently had an untied left shoelace.

Climaxing at a chance seen with dozens of other animals did the real trick. Great experience. Glad you lived to tell the tale, Laurie.

Lost in Jamaica

by Laurie Gough

In Negril, a town founded by hippies, the author explores its hedonistic ways.

Another Laurie! There must be something in the name that excites their travel writing to a level not often touched by most.

So here's the gist. Laurie befriends a local Jamaican woman and clicks with her family life - away from the drug tourists and resort hot tubs that muddy her prior exposure. Unfortunately, she burns her leg on the exhaust pipe of a motorbike and has to leave the authenticity of her experience to seek medical help.

And medicine she gets, albeit from a creepy old lady on the beach. We don't often picture 80 year-old women with wicker baskets to be drug pushers, which is probably why Laurie was caught off guard and couldn't deny the "somewhat pushy" entrepreneur her $2. Laurie ensues with an incredible explanation of her feelings while high as a skyscraper in Dubai. Not everyone has these sorts of travel experiences, nor does everyone necessarily want to, which is why I liked hearing her detail a mindset that frightens my curiosity.

The Bottomline

Open book; don't judge
Open book; don't judge

I could list my honorable mentions or go on giving away some of the best plots, or you could head to your local library and check it out yourself. Again, if I were into reading snippets of exotic life over and over again, I'd totally buy this great anthology, but I think I have a zest for the art of a novel, instead. Although, I'll make the point again that I now know a few more writers I'd be interested thanks to reading this collection.

Travelers' Tales has already published its 2010 edition of the same topic, The Best Women's Travel Writing, and is always accepting submissions for the next editions of their many annual anthologies.