Travel Lit Review: Passport Diaries by Tamara T. Gregory

“Whether you’re sitting by the pool or on the beach, it’s the perfect summer read. I couldn’t put it down.” –Gabrielle Union

I couldn’t agree more with this quote I found on the back cover of Passport Diaries, a novel I discovered through Twitter (shoutout to @monicalwilliams!). I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a semi-biographical travel-related novel and this summer I’m on a mission to read any and every piece of travel literature written by someone of color. Enter Passport Diaries.¬†This book took me all of a day to read. I literally devoured it. It was an easy read, but it was so much fun and I really felt like I was with my homegirl (or the protagonist) Kia as she journeyed through London, Paris, and Mykonos. I say “homegirl” because Kia’s voice is so clear and so real. She’s a successful lawyer from L.A., 30-something, single, and ready to celebrate her next birthday internationally. And much like me, she’d rather go on a trip solo than cancel it because other people changed their minds, didn’t want to go, flaked, whatever (although it took a little prodding by her travel agent). But really, you can’t wait on someone else to live your life. I feel you Kia!

I had no idea what to expect when I opened up the first page, but couldn’t help but smile when I recognized Kia’s voice as that of, well… my homegirl. For example, take this passage I came across within the first couple of pages:

“Every black woman has beauty-shop horror stories. It’s our cross to bear. It’s like going to church. We know we have to go, even when we don’t feel like it. Afterwards, though we feel like a different person, like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. But, good God, why does it have to take so long? Does the paster really have to take up two collections? Does the hairdresser really have to double-book appointments? Inquiring-minded people with a life really want to know.”

I could also relate to Kia’s frustration with the lack of traveling or international awareness of our fellow countrymen. When the book was published (2004), only 16% of Americans had a passport, which means we’re making progress, no? To that figure Kia remarks, “It seems we have a strong desire to rule the world; we just don’t want to travel it.” You can say that again. Just like all travel-related fiction, Passport Diaries, not only tells a cute story, but it also makes me want to dust off my passport.

Definitely give this one a read, it’s light fiction, not too deep, will take you a weekend at the most and will have you laughing out loud and wanderlusting it up all at the same time. And Tamara T. Gregory gets bonus points because she details Kia’s itinerary in the back of the book. So you can relive Passport Diaries by staying at the same places, eating at the same restaurants, and visiting the same attractions. Click the image above to find the book on Amazon – or do like me and hit up your local library. ūüôā Enjoy!

Rating: 3.5/5

If anyone else out there has read Passport Diaries, what did you think? And what are some other books out there for me to check out?


Travel Lit Review: Kinky Gazpacho by Lori L. Tharps


Kinky Gazpacho Review

Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love and Spain surprised me on many levels. ¬†In this travel memoir you follow Lori through her every encounter with international experiences from International Day in third grade, to hosting international students, to spending weeks in Morocco and then to her eternal love affair with Spain (and a Spaniard). Throughout the entire book you get more than just a travel memoir, but you also get to see these experiences through the eyes of a black girl who’s not even sure of her “blackness.” ¬†Many people dream of going on that international escapade and falling in love and trying to make an international love affair work – I must admit some of the things that happen in Tharps’s memoir couldn’t have been better scripted on Lifetime. It was a great story and I loved being able to study abroad again through the memoir.

More than the history that Tharps discovered and the reflections on race in Milwaukee and Spain, I was most tied to her time actually studying abroad in Spain. For the majority of the beginning of the book I found myself flipping ahead to see how many more chapters before she goes abroad.  Those stories are always the most interesting to me.  How can you not want to know more about her first marriage proposal by the Moroccan boy with whom her first date consisted of meeting his mother (first date?!?) where they ate in practically total silence? I live for hearing about experiences like those.  I also like to hear more about how Americans in other countries adjust to cultural differences.  In Kinky Gazpacho, Tharps remarks about the concept of time in Spain after her date, Manuel, shows up 20 minutes late to her home for dinner:

“The concept of time was a very fluid thing. Deadlines were guidelines. And it was true, if you said you were going to meet someone for drinks at six, not until seven o’clock rolled around could you get even slightly worried that they might be late. So I forgave this smiling Spaniard in front of me…”

I can definitely relate to passages like this from my time abroad in Italy and also from being in Dominca for 5 days. ¬†Watches are optional, there are no schedules, things happen whenever they happen – it’s freeing but it takes some getting used to. I’d like to thank Lori L. Tharps for reminding me of these awakening experiences where you learn to appreciate the subtleties of other cultures.

Rating: 3.5/5

**Not sure if it’s an editor’s or publisher’s issue but at the beginning of this book there are typos and misspellings that REALLY threw me off – I’m a stickler for those kinds of things and it was kind of a distraction. I didn’t notice many (if any) towards the end of the book though.

Travel Lit Review: Black Girl in Paris

It took me a while to finish this book (Click here¬†for¬†the¬†original post and Amazon¬†review). Not because it wasn’t good (it was grrreaat¬†a la Tony, our favorite Tiger), but because I have reading A.D.D.¬† I start dozens of books – all within a week. And I have had¬†a couple¬†of trips¬†in the midst of it too, but I’m notorious for leaving a library book on a plane, in a hotel, at a restaurant so I didn’t take it with me.¬† Although it would have been excellent plane reading for that 9-hr flight to Amsterdam. Anyway, here goes. My take on Black Girl in Paris:

First of all, I know this book is considered a fiction novel, but the details and the pure “rawness” of Youngblood’s¬†descriptions have you wondering just how thin that line is between fact and fiction.¬† Her writing is beautiful, often poetic, but at the same time so very real.¬† Just by reading some of the notes about the author we know that quite a bit of it is based on the author’s life: Youngblood¬†traveled to Paris, was an au pair (fancy word for nanny), artists’ model, and poet’s helper – just like the protagonist Eden.¬† And even if we didn’t have that particular footnote, some of the details Youngblood uses just couldn’t be made up.

This book literally had my jaw dropping at some of the adventurous escapades Eden takes us on.¬† Other parts had my head nodding in total agreement because I can relate to some of her experiences as a black girl in Europe, more so¬†as a black girl just wanting to travel.¬† Eden goes to Paris to follow in the footsteps of many other great African-American writers – Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and the elusive James Baldwin whom Eden tirelessly attempts to track down for just the slightest slimmer of inspiration.¬† She so fittingly describes a story as a “map.” Of her journey to Paris she says “I’ll make maps so other people can get there too, adventurers like me.” And that’s really what it’s all about.¬† Shay Youngblood, Black Women in Europe, ME! – we’re all attempting to write our own maps to share with you.¬† It reminds me of this Aldous Huxley¬†quote related to creating your own guidebook that I wrote about¬†a couple¬†of weeks¬†ago.¬† Get out there and take what you want out of life (as Eden’s aunt instructed her when she found out about her desires to go to Paris), make your own maps, don’t follow someone else’s plan.

The thing I love about travel literature in general, and Black Girl In Paris, in particular is its double entendre quality.¬† You could say that the purpose of this novel was to tell a great story, which it did.¬† But at the same time you could say that it is an attempt to inspire others to follow in Eden’s footsteps.¬† Only after re-reading parts of the story did I remember that reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin “lit a fire” in her – the simple act of reading a book pushed her across the threshold from desiring a life in Paris to making reservations for a one-way flight.¬† Just like Giovanni’s Room inspired her, Black Girl in Paris can be someone else’s catalyst.

The other admirable aspect of Black Girl in Paris¬†(and again, with most travel literature) is it’s ability to serve as a tour guide and to introduce ideas, monuments, landmarks, activities, historical¬†events and so much more that are particular to a specific place and time.¬† Never had I been so vividly introduced to Turkish baths.¬† I never would have imagined getting a job as an artists’ model or as a poet’s helper.¬† I was also briefed on the¬†terrorism and racial tension¬†of the time and what it’s like to be a Black American – a minority of a minority – in Paris while comparing it to my experience in Milan. You also learn little secrets that can help you if you ever decide to live or travel abroad.¬† But I won’t divulge those, you’ll just have to check out the book and read it yourself! Trust me, it’s worth it.

Stars: 4/5