book crush thursday: Educating Alice

One of the sneaky, hidden agendas of curiosity, I believe, is to make you go forward in the face of fear. -- Alice Steinbach, Educating Alice

If Amalfi were a man, I thought, he'd be dressed by Calvin Klein and reading Tom Clancy. Positano would wear Armani and carry a book by John le Carré. But if Ravello were a man--ah, Ravello!--he would be in chinos and a fresh white oxford shirt with no tie, buried in a book by Graham Greene. -- Alice Steinbach, Without Reservations

I'm not a big fan of nonfiction, in general. (That is actually a massive understatement.) I will, however, stay up terribly late at night reading travelogues. If I can't be touring the world myself, I'm very happy to read while someone else does it.
And so I loved Educating Alice (and the book before it, Without Reservations). Alice Steinbach is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, and reading her books feels like having a wonderful conversation with a very smart, cool friend. Who's traveled everywhere. And learned all kinds of interesting things.
Maybe that's what makes Educating Alice especially compelling for me. Not only did she travel around the world, but she took a class in each place. So ... she talks about each destination through the lens of the course she is taking, like Cuban architecture, Jane Austen, French cooking, and Japanese traditions.
And though I first read it in 2007, I still think about her chapter on gardening (in Provence) every time I stare at a tree, and Border collie training (in Scotland) whenever I "meet" a new dog.
Perhaps the best part of this book? It gives plenty of inspiration to plot my own classes-round-the-world tour. I mean, seriously. There is some major daydreaming fuel. What would I like to learn and where? Oooh. I could spend all week thinking about that. Or all summer.
Recommendation: Wouldn't it be best to celebrate one of the cultures she's writing about as you read? Two chapters are devoted to French destinations, and I won't argue with that. Have yourself an omelette, or perhaps a crepe, with a cup of strong coffee. Mmmm. The makings of a perfect afternoon.

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