Read your way around the world this holiday season

If you are looking for a book for that traveler on your gift list or something special for yourself, here are my picks:

“The Food Book: A Journey through the Great Cuisines of the World” (Lonely Planet; hardcover; $25): Readers — or perusers — can open to any page and begin learning about the usual and unusual culinary offerings in lands far and not-so-far away. There may be 888 pages in this little square, fat tome, but much of the space is devoted to beautiful photos that capture the unique foods of 47 countries. Each chapter touches on native dishes and dining, and includes notes on the culture, shopping, religion, hierarchy of ingredients, drinks, celebrations, etiquette and the occasional interesting fact.

For instance, Indians eat more than 4 pounds of rice a week; in Jamaica, Red Stripe beer is available from vending machines; and Ghana is reputed to be the friendliest country in Africa.

Readers will find that many of the typical foods of countries endure, but as technology shrinks the world and allows people move about the globe more often, there is a greater diversity in local cuisines — including France where “people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, talking about and consuming food.”

“The Food Book” is an excellent pre-trip reference or a great gift for foodies who like international cuisine or want to know more about it.

“Paris, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Ways” (Outskirts Press; hardback; $24.95): You could call this book “Slow Paris” because author-traveler Ruth Yunker of Newport Beach gives us a visitor’s view of the City of Lights that is minus the major sites, but full of detail about lingering in a place you love.

Yunker was lucky enough to spend six weeks there in her favorite arrondissement — the 15th — and she takes us along as she learns the small-but-interesting facts about life in Paris. (Examples: Not all greeting cards come with envelopes; never greet dogs before greeting their owners; and there is joy in photographing the reflection of a yellow umbrella in wet cobblestones.)

The portraits of people and pictures of places that Yunker paints with her words allow readers to easily share her bewilderment, frustration, humor and gratitude that she experiences during her stay.

“Unbridled: A Memoir” (Balboa Press; softcover; $14.95): Forget “Fifty Shades of Grey” and try this real-life fantasy about a woman whose marriage goes awry, but is lucky enough to have the means to follow her adventurous late grandmother’s path to independent adventure. Barbara McNally travels to Ireland, home of her ancestors, and discovers not only the beauty and history of the country, but how to navigate the world on her own. And yes, there is a brief-but-torrid love affair. There also is a big surprise on the home front upon McNally’s return from Ireland.

Just when you think that perhaps McNally, now a San Diego resident, is a bit too self-absorbed, an incident in Jamaica changes the direction of her life and puts it in perspective. “Unbridled” is definitely chic-lit, but oh, so many grades above a Harlequin Romance.

“A to Zee Across America” (AuthorHouse; softcover): This quirky guidebook to the U.S.A. was born of tragedy. Author Kay Morris-Robertson, a Brit, lost her husband suddenly in 2008 as they were sailing off the California coast. They had been married a mere six months. Traumatized and wrongly diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), “I found myself locked up in a psychiatric unit by the very company that had brought me to America,” she writes. “Instead of restoration, my symptoms worsened and, eventually, I had to take the multi-billion dollar company to court to get the matter settled.”

The case apparently went her way because Morris-Robertson bought an RV, named it Reggie and set out on what became a three-year journey encompassing 50 states and more than 80,000 miles. To add structure to her trip, though, she left with rules: no big cities; visit towns in alphabetical order (even if 3,000 miles apart); and let the American public vote for the destinations.

In addition to the towns and attractions like the Grand Canyon which garnered the most votes, Morris-Robertson includes runner-up destinations, her favorite watering holes and restaurants, and a bit on the culture and oddities of the winning areas.

Proceeds from the book go to Our House Los Angeles, which provides grief support, and Cardiac Risk in the Young, a United Kingdom charity that raises heart health awareness.

Reggie the RV is plastered with stickers from McNally’s many stops, is on display in the Lemay Automobile Museum in Tacoma, Wash.

 

 

 

 

 

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