Having found a list of “10 New Zealand Books You Must Read Before You Die”, I took it on myself to read several of the books in preparation for our travels and in an attempt to better understand the people and culture of New Zealand.
Unfortunately, and I say this with the greatest respect for Kiwi authors and surprise at how parochial our library system really is (After all, does Colorado Springs actually need another book on Pikes Peak?), but our library system didn’t have one of the books. Not one.
In looking over the list, what had worried me most was the severe phrase “must read.” Not ‘could read’ or ‘might like to read’ but ‘must read before you die.’ And if I don’t read them, what would happen? I’d die?
I could see myself on my deathbed, or as my son mangled the phrase when he was small, my “dying bed”. Well, anyway, I could see myself turning that very last page of that last book of the ten New Zealand books I must read, then with a great sigh not to mention hoping that the book had had an absolute spectacular terrific fantastic ending and—well, dying.
We had been in a few bookstores in New Zealand during our preliminary visit. They are a little different than the stores here in that they also sell stationary and office supplies and whatnot. Perhaps it is in case that after looking through the books you decide, “Hell, I could have written this!” Forthright, the store obliges you saying, “Very well, then, step this way” and you can promptly make your way to the back of the store and purchase a ream of paper, pens, notebooks, printer ink cartridges and have a go at it yourself.
The books were not that much different there than here. Well, they were and they were not. One of the current bestsellers for women was something like “How to Lose 20 Kilos in 60 Days”. Rebecca picked it up and paged through it, her eyes narrowing as they do when she is intently studying something, or simply reading the morning paper. It was as if the book might offer something different than the score of similar books she had back home. That somehow losing weight in kilos would be different or perhaps easier than losing it in pounds. Or that perhaps, being in the Southern Hemisphere near the bottom of the globe, weight might just slide off or be slung off you into space somehow not being quite as stuck-on by the force of gravity. A novel concept. How much was a kilo anyway?
In the men’s section, there was a particular book, a bestseller actually, that caught my interest. It was something like “How to Be a Good Bloke.” I apologize in advance to the author for probably mangling his title, particularly since based on the picture on the cover, while the author looking friendly enough, he also looked like he could kick my bloke ass.
I had never thought of becoming a good bloke. It really hadn’t been something I had considered in the brief, intermittent self-improvement stages of my life, which thankfully as the years progressed, had grown more and more infrequent and shorter-lasting. Nope, not on any of my to-do lists. But perhaps I would take it up if I lived in New Zealand. After all, who wouldn’t like it after exiting a room to have people say.
“He’s a good bloke.”
“Yes, but how far along is he on reading those ten must-read books?”
When you’re at home it is always fun to read travel books and then to arrive at the destination to find that it isn’t anything like the description in the book. To be fair, sometimes things are more spectacular than described; and sometimes they are—well— less than described. But in the travel book universe, there is no place you can go in the world that doesn’t have a bright blue sky and awe-inspiring sunsets. Where can you go bereft of locals with warm smiles spreading their arms before platters of succulent seafood and brightly colored fresh vegetables?
But why is it that when you finally arrive, the palatial edifice in the picture that was to be your hotel is more like ramshackle Motel 6? And how about the difficulty in finding that exact one spot where they took the picture, that one and only spot where if you crouched, craned your neck and squinted, where you could (Look, yes, there it is!) actually have a view of the ocean, mountains or city.
How about the rainy days? How about the cloudy overcast days? I should write a travel book and all the pictures would be with grey and overcast skies. The local peasants would be dyspeptic and refractory. The food colorless, limp and pale. The requisite animals don’t show their faces. It would be called “This is what could happen on your vacation if you get a bad bunch of days.”
When you go to a “foreign country” and go to a bookstore, it is always fun to look at travel books for the area you came from. I know that sounds a bit perverse like traveling half-way (never a third of the way or 2/5ths of the way) around the world and ending up sitting in your hotel room watching TV shows from back home. Yes, I’ve done that. The shows somehow seem slightly different because you are watching them in another country, but at the same time, the same—because they are the same. But if you are lonely or forlorn, it can be like seeing a familiar friendly face in a crowd, or having some old friends with you.
But it’s interesting to look at guide books from where you’ve come from to see what people in the place you’re visiting who want to travel to your place get to read. We picked up a few travel books for Colorado.
“Haaa, look where they’re sending them. I’d never go there!” I chortled.
“Oh, yeah, they’re telling them to eat there – YUCK!” Rebecca cried.
This all occurs before you realize that you are also using their guide books and nobody who actually lives in the place you are now visiting would actually think of going to or eating at the places where they are sending you either.
Invariably however in the guidebook for back home you find someplace close to your house that you never knew existed.
“Hmm, that sounds pretty neat. I never knew that was there,” my wife said her voice dropping perceptibly. “And there’s a giant waterfall there too. How could we not know there was a waterfall so close to us?”
“Yeah, that is pretty close, in fact, almost right up the street.”
“Yeah, just past the Wendy’s I think.”