Finding inspiration in other’s stories: Swept and Travels with Myself and Another

October 31, 2011 in Life,Philosophy

“Solitude is all right with books, awful without,” writes Martha Gellhorn, my latest literary/travel/life inspiration.

Journal and postcards on the Wellington waterfront, New Zealand

The last two books I’ve read have featured ordinary women who have taken extraordinary journeys, women who inspire me to push beyond my comfort zone.

Swept is the story of Torre DeRoche, an Australian twenty-something who fell in love with an Argentinean man who was in love with the ocean. After meeting in a bar in San Francisco and getting swept up in a whirlwind romance, they moved onto Ivan’s sailboat and took to the ocean. One small hitch: Torre is scared of the ocean and had never sailed before in her life. What ensues is a tale of the seasickness and storms that a couple will endure in the name of love.

Travels with Myself and Another relates the “horror journeys” of Martha Gellhorn, because no one ever wants to hear about the perfect vacations spent lying on the beach–they only start listening when you relate how you lost your passport or missed your plane. The ex-lover of Ernest Hemingway was one of the best war journalists of the 20th century, and she spent her life traveling the world by herself (after enduring tuberculous-ridden China in the 1940s with the man who she refers to as U.C., or Unwilling Companion). Gellhorn sailed through the Caribbean before there were cruise ships, wandered among elephants, giraffes and lions before there were organized safaris.

“It’s always the case of having to sacrifice one thing for the other. You have to choose between your life and a woman, and it’s got to be your own life, doesn’t it?” states Bernard Moitessier, the sailing inspiration for Torre’s sailor boyfriend. Swept and Travels with Myself and Another embrace opposites of the spectrum: one following her love into the ocean, the other crossing oceans and continents as she pleased.

I can’t even imagine the highs and lows described in each book. Enduring day after day of seasickness and long-life foods–but being rewarded with picture-perfect white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and mangos fresh off the tree. Driving through desolate Africa by herself and flying in planes before pressurized cabins in wartime China–but also swimming in a protected cove in the Caribbean, alone with only the brightly-colored fish. As Gellhorn puts it: “One of the three greatest joys in life, swimming naked in a clean, tropical sea.”

Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

Despite my love of travel, I don’t love reading travel books. Instead,  I get absorbed into stories, the adventures and relationships and moments of real people. Both Swept and Travels with Myself and Another absolutely sucked me into their lives and their travels: their fears, their challenges, that unrelenting feeling of freedom. The best travel memoirs make you want to go where they went–and despite the harsh difficulties that are very clearly presented in each book–I’m suddenly yearning to sail the South Pacific (if any cute sailors are looking for a first mate who hates getting her face wet and is scared of open water…I’m your girl!) and see Africa and Caribbean before they’re even more spoiled by tourism.

I recommend both books without the slightest hesitation: I’ve been raving about each to my barista, my coworkers, the woman sitting next to me on the tram. And while I can’t offer up Travels with Myself and Another (it’s due at the library next week), I’m more than happy to pass on my copy of Swept (I believe in book recycling).

To enter to win Swept, simply leave a comment with the best book you’ve read lately (I’m going to need to fill up the Kindle Touch 3G that I just preordered–I’ve finally gone to the dark side) and Tweet or Facebook this post. The winner will be announced on November 14. 

*On a side note, Torre is living in Melbourne at the moment and I had the chance to meet her over drinks with a few other travel bloggers last weekend. She’s just as funny and straightforward in real life as she is in the book, and the self-motivation she showed in writing and publishing Swept is just unreal. Awesome inspiration for any aspiring novelists/travelers/would-be sailors out there–seriously, buy her book. I bought my book (it was not a free review copy) and absolutely think it was worth it. 

  • Emily Wenzel

    I’m staring at my bookshelves right now, trying to gauge what you’d like best :)
    First, books about France. I’m pretty sure you’ve ready Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, in fact, I think you recommended it once and that’s why I got it (although now that you’re in Australia, it might be fun to reread it!), but have you read The Last Time I Saw Paris? I read that on my last trip. It’s a historical fiction book about an American who travels to Paris right before WW2 and falls in love (with the city and a man!). SO good. On the topic of history, if you’re at all into India, I recommend Indu Sundaresan, she’s amazing. I have 4 of her books (The 2oth Wife, the Feast of Roses, the Spledor of Silence, and Shadow Princess. Lastly, I recommend My Sergei: A Love Story about Russian figure skaters Ekaterina Gordeeva (the author) and her late husband, Sergei. So beautiful and touching. :)

  • Melissa Whalen

    I just read Diane Chamberlain’s The Midwife’s Confession in one sitting last week! It was such a fantastic read. But my favorite book of all time is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

  • Yay for book giveaways! These are so my favorites. I really need to do this with some of my stuff I have sitting around. ANYWAY.

    I just finished reading The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost, which I liked, but didn’t love (maybe I could relate too much? Which sounds odd in not liking a book, but there was something off about the whole thing), so be aware.

    I finished History of a Suicide a few weeks back and it was a bit heavy, but I really liked it. Haven’t read too much travel lit lately (or maybe I am finally getting too picky) or even good chicklit. I agree with Emily’s comment on Almost French. I loved that book! Oddly, it made me miss Australia tons. I think you’ll love it.

  • These sound like fantastic reads, Christine. I’ll add them to my list. Though I haven’t had much time for reading lately, I hope to again one day soon …

  • Anonymous

    Ohhh The Last Time I Saw Paris sounds just like something I’d love–I adore historical fiction, particularly the WWII era. I’m reading “The Book Thief” right now on a friend’s recommendation and loving it–have you read that one yet?

  • Anonymous

    How funny! I’m reading The Book Thief right now and LOVING IT! I’ll have to add The Midwife’s Confession to my list of must-reads–clearly we have similar taste :)

  • Anonymous

    Have already read Almost French and absolutely loved it–but agree with Emily’s comment, might appreciate it much more after spending some time in Australia :)

  • Anonymous

    Both are certainly worth a read :)

  • wonky73

    I thought it would be hard to come up with the best book I’ve read lately. But it ended up being really easy.  It has to be How I Became a Famous Novelist.  It’s a satirical look at the publishing industry.  As an aspiring writer I had to read it.  Really funny.

  • Anonymous

    Ahhh I might need to check that one out! Thanks for the rec!

  • Briel K.

    I really enjoy reading Marisa de los Santos’s books. The way she writes is beautiful. “Love Walked In” and “Belong to Me” are my favorites.

  • I just bought a kindle and I LOVE The heck out of it! I’ve been reading like crazy (which is part of why  I’m dying for a copy of Swept), so I’ve got suggestions.

    The Hunger Games series has totally swept me off my feet! I know they are technically for young adults but I really can’t resist a well-written fantasy novel. It’s set in a dystopian future which i think is my favorite genre (is that a genre) but the themes are very familiar and universal. I sped through the whole 3book series in like a week and a half.

    I have plenty of more suggestions for you so email me and we can talk books!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve read “Belong to Me”–absolutely loved it! Will have to check out her other one–thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Ahhh I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Hunger Games! Just preordered a Kindle Touch 3G–hoping to get it over Thanksgiving–will have to make that series one of my first purchases, it sounds like perfect beach read :)

  • Kate Svedang

    A couple of suggestions:

    Donna Tartt is an immense author – loved The Secret History. 

    Maggie O’Farrell’s After You’ve Gone is a brilliantly told tragedy.

    Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate blew me away… a second War and Peace (also excellent!) set in cold cold Russia (so good to read when in a warm place!) during the Second World War. Grossman an inspirational writer and war journalist – the story of publishing Life and Fate is fascinating – “The KGB raided Grossman’s flat after he had completed Life and Fate, seizing manuscripts, notes and even the ribbon from the typewriter on which the text had been written. Grossman was told by the Communist Party’s chief ideologist Mikhail Suslov that the book could not be published for two or three hundred years. At the time of Grossman’s death from stomach cancer in 1964, these books were unreleased. Copies were eventually smuggled out of the Soviet Union by a network of dissidents, including Andrei Sakharov and Vladimir Voinovich, and first published in the West, before appearing in the USSR in 1988.” 

    Presume you’ve read Bill Bryson’s comedy genius?!

    Sebastian Faulks sets lots of his novels in France – his trilogy of The Girl at the Lion d’Or, Birdsong and Charlotte Gray are all linked through history, location and some characters. Moving stuff indeed. 

    Hope this gives you some ideas! 

  • Ooo, I’d love to read ‘Swept’, I’ve been reading such good reviews about it! I recently finished reading ‘The Alchemist’ for what is probably the third time. It’s just as inspirational the nth time around!!! And I’ve also been reading ‘Notas de Viaje’ about Che Guevara’s motorcycle travels around Latin America, and I also enjoyed ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ by Paul Theroux (that one’s an oldie)! I’m really into travel lit! ;D

  • Anonymous

    Ahhh I read The Alchemist in like 24 hours last year–loved it! Will have to check out those other two–I’ve heard great things about Theroux but have yet to read anything of his!

  • Anonymous

    hunger games= i read them all within a week. awesome books, movie is ocming soon!

  • Anonymous

    Ohhh have heard good things about that! Might make that my first beach read on the Kindle!

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  • Anonymous

    ive got book three on there, so whenyoure ready, i can ‘loan’ it to you via kindle!!!

  • Anonymous

    I bought the whole trilogy on KIndle–OBSESSED. Basically spent my entire 10-hour flight yesterday reading it.

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