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Q&A: Writer Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux

In The Tao of Travel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $25), out this month, the peripatetic writer compiles wisdom from an array of literature and life on the road. Here, he shares a few tidbits with T+L.

Q: Other than writing, how do you document your adventures?

A: I collect knick-knacks people have used, like snuff boxes and voodoo figures. There’s a Polynesian word, mana, meaning the spiritual power of an object—those things appeal to me.

Q: What have you learned from other writers?

A: As Flaubert said, when you’re traveling, you realize how small you are. Dollars are helpful, but a smile is more valuable.

Q: Is there a 21st-century Grand Tour?

A: In the 19th century, it was London, Paris, Rome, and Greece. Today it’s a global buffet: a safari in Africa, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, and the Carnival, in Brazil.

Photo by Steve McCurry

Kate Betts on First Lady Fashion—and (Yes) the Royal Wedding Dress

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Wonder what Kate Middleton’s going to wear down the Westminster Abbey aisle this Friday? Or what Michelle Obama’s going to wear on just about any given day of the week? Recently, I chatted with T+L contributing editor and style guru Kate Betts—hot off the heels of publishing her new book, Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style (Clarkson Potter, $35)—about the fashion sensibilities of first ladies around the globe.

201104-b-first-lady-michelle-obamajpgQ: People the world over have been enraptured by Michelle Obama’s sense of style. Considering her presence on the international stage, what sort of statement is she making about herself—and America—through what she wears?

A: She is making a statement about the power of confidence. The idea of wearing young, unknown American designers perfectly mirrors many of the ideas her husband campaigned on: new faces, new ideas, change. And at the recent state dinner for the President of China, she made a very bold statement by not wearing a dress designed by an American. A lot of people were upset about that—particularly the American fashion industry. But to my mind her self-possession and confidence define American style better than any label in her dress ever would.

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100 Places to Go Before They Disappear

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100 Places to Go Before They Disappear, a gorgeous new book of photos which comes out May 1, is dedicated to 100 places around the world that are already on their way or in danger of disappearing forever. In honor of Earth Day, which began as an environmental teach-in in response to an oil spill off of California's coast in 1970, we’re highlighting a few excerpts from some of the most fascinating destinations featured in the book, available from Abrams Publishing on May 1 for $24.95.

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Riddle: What’s Called a Travel Guide But Isn’t One?

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Baechtold’s Best: Afghanistan visually explores a stunning variety of Afghan experiences.  Each 2-page spread in this short book is dedicated to a simple theme like Taxi, Burka, Meal, or Poppy. The left-hand page offers sixteen thumbnail photos on the theme and a graphic map indicating where each was taken. The right-hand page has a large image chosen by the editors as the best example—Baechtold’s Best—with the briefest of identifying captions.

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For Travelers: Google's eBookshop

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Imagine if your everyday hardcover book came with rules about where you could read it. Sounds crazy, but in the digital world we hardly bat an eye about similar restrictions. For instance, iBooks titles must be read on Apple devices.

For e-bookworms who love the platform, but could do without the Apple pits, Google just debuted the largest multi-platform cyber-bookshop, Google eBooks, with over 3 million titles (most of which are free). What sets the site apart—and has charmed several top travel publishers—is its quest for open access. Reading materials aren’t tied to a device; they’re stowed in the digital cloud. So, users enjoy limitless storage, as well as compatibility with more than 85 devices, including the Android, Sony Reader, and iPad.

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Seeking Tango Bliss in Italy

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The cobblestone highway through Naples was four cars wide with a cacophony of motorbikes weaving in and out and vendors hawking their wares. “This reminds me of a New York City tango floor,” Renee, my traveling companion and fellow tango dancer, commented. I had been a follower on the dance floor and was wholly unprepared for navigating this, but it seemed the only way to get us to the ferry for the tango festival in Capri.

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Book Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

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After devouring T+L’s delectable July Food and Travel issue, I stumbled across the perfect literary accompaniment: journalist Richard C. Morais’s debut novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey (Scribner). The title is somewhat misleading—this “journey” is actually one of many thousands of miles, tracing the improbable rise of an Indian chef, Hassan Haji, from Mumbai to Paris, as we follow him from his humble roots at a ramshackle family-owned Indian restaurant to his enviable position as one of France’s most celebrated chefs, the acquirer of three coveted Michelin stars.

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Why We Envy "The Lost Girls"

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Here at T+L, we’re fortunate enough to have the world’s most fascinating destinations on our radar at all times—but we still have to come back to reality, and our desks, eventually. So when I received a copy of The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Conventional Detour Around the World recently, it felt a little eerie. Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner were three twentysomething Manhattan media types—including two magazine editors, just like me!—who plotted to leave their fast-paced careers and relationships to backpack around the world for a year. Were these girls really going to live my dream, then shove it in my face in an epic 591-page tome?

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Titanic Awards: Celebrating the Worst in Travel

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I’ve long thought the best travel stories are the ones, well, where things don’t go according to plan. The most memorable tales from the road, it seems, often involve weird characters, bungled reservations, and near misses of all kinds. For this reason, I’ve become a big fan of the TitanicAwards.com, a survey site that celebrates “the dubious achievements in travel” (from Worst Toilet to Most Annoying Tourist Attraction) and can always be counted on for a good laugh. (If you like the LOLcats of Icanhascheezeburger, you’ll love the absurd-but-true findings of TitanicAwards.com.)

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La Dolce Vita: Gelato Tours in Rome

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Come June, author, blogger, and all-around sweet tooth David Lebovitz is heading to Rome to hunt down the best gelato in town—if not the world. For anyone interested in joining him, the author of the ice cream bible The Perfect Scoop will lead an Out of Context three-hour guided tour to the eternal city’s best gelato and granita ($86/person).

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