Literature: Susan Orlean’s Kind of Place

“I view all stories as journeys.  Journeys are the essential text of the human experience—the journey from birth to death, from innocence to knowledge, from where we start to where we end.” –Susan Orlean, in My Kind of Place

Orlean's Kind of PlaceSusan Orlean’s My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere (Random House, 2005) took me out of my holiday funk and into a New Jersey backyard full of two dozen pet tigers…and then to the top of Japan’s Mount Fuji…and finally to Iceland on a quest to figure out what happened to the whale in Free Willy

Orlean, who is also the author of The Orchid Thief, demonstrates her strength as an essayist in My Kind of Place, which is a collection of thirty-three nonfiction essays from here, there, and everywhere.  She’s sassy.  And smart.  And even though she admits: “I travel heavy,” I can’t help but like her anyway.  Maybe she can’t pack, but she can write.  

Most of the essays in this collection have been previously published in The New Yorker, and Orlean presents herself as a curious, detail-snatching guide who gathers stories from around the globe.  Most vividly, she brings alive Bangkok’s Khao San Road, a buzzing place lined with a “jumble of small businesses—travel agencies, Internet cafes, souvenir stores, bars…and stalls offering bootleg tapes, bogus Teva sandals, Hindu-print camisoles, and flyweight silver jewelry, along with the hair braiders and the banana pancake makers.”  Orlean sees it all and writes so convincingly about Khao San Road in “The Place to Disappear” that readers can touch and smell the place as she strolls through. 

My Kind of Place might be the book for you if–
You’re trapped in a dungeon without a window to the outside world.  You don’t own a passport, but you like people who do.  You want to know where you can purchase a “commemorative eel cake.”  You, like Orlean, are a self-described “passionate voyager.”   

Merci, Madame
Thanks to The Sister, for her comment recommending Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa by Karin Muller (Rodale Books, 2005).  I want to read it.  (For those of you who don’t know, The Sister has good manners and good taste.  She mostly writes about food and travel.) 

Literature Saves
Feel free to leave a comment about the books that got you through…(the holidays, that nasty breakup, your latest transatlantic flight, …??!).  We’d love to hear.  

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4 responses to “Literature: Susan Orlean’s Kind of Place

  1. Not to be redundant on the whole book thing, but one book that I’ve kept by my side for the better part of 15 years has been, “14,000 Things To Be Happy About” by Barbara Ann Kipfer. This book contains so many great things, written as streams of consciousness…

    “red wine, and 1-inch thick pizzas, fishing liscences, falling asleep on someone’s lap, accidental meetings, contributing something uniquely yours to the world, variety being the spice of life, elegant white bed linens, soft, wet kisses and very big hugs, guarding your private times as your most treasured asset”

    The list and the stream goes on. This book of mine has ,over the years been highlighted, underlined, starred and page turned.

    It has pushed me through many things. When I’m happy I turn to it, when I’m sad I turn to it. It’s also been the inspiration for the ‘non-blog’ prose writings only a few know me for.

  2. susan orlean is amazing.

    when i’m in that much of a funk, it’s hard to focus on reading… i’m more of a “rent a bad john cusack movie” or “wallow in a joni mitchell CD” kind of gal. unless of course it’s an author who will crack me up. in that case, david sedaris, sarah vowell, john kennedy toole all have done the trick.

  3. apologize for not having a literary comment to add, just glad to see an old friend doing well.

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