The River at the Center of the World

November 16th, 2008. China

This question was posed to me by the editor of Which book, movie or album inspired you to travel in 2008?

For me, I am most inspired by books, so I decided to write about one that Nik’s father gave us last Christmas called The River at the Center of the World: A Journey up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time by Simon Winchester.  He gave it to us in preparation for our trip to China (which starts next week!!!!), and it was perfect.  We have both read it now, and I am actually sad because we shipped it home before we left for India, which means we don’t have it with us to reference.  Luckily it was a great book so I remember most of it!

This book follows Simon Winchester and his Chinese companion as they  travel along the Yangtze River and back in time through China’s political, social and spiritual past.  Their journey begins in the Pacific Ocean outside of Shanghai and continues through the heart of the country until they reach the river’s source high in the Tibetan Himalayas.  Along the way, Winchester tells anecdotal stories about their encounter with proud entrepreneurs gazing at Shanghai’s Pearl TV Tower, a pack of swimmers traversing the waterway in memorial to Chairman Mao’s triumphant swim of 1966, Tibetan roadblocks in which bribes are the only way cross and much more.  Winchester weaves these stories seamlessly with the history of China in a way that you nearly forget what is part of his journey, and what happened hundreds of years ago.

A close second on my list of inspiration was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I had never heard of this best seller when I saw it on my good friend Jessica’s coffee table two days before I left Tennessee to fly to Thailand.  I still needed a good book for the plane, so I went to the used bookstore in Hendersonville the very next morning to pick it up.  It was the best book that I ever could have started reading on the day I began 6 months of travel!

The somewhat distant third, but still good, on my list is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.  It is a fictional story about the life of a boy born at midnight on the day of India’s independence from Great Britain.  It was recommended by a local bookseller in Varanasi, India as one of the must reads for Indian literature.  The book gave me a wonderful insight into the culture of India as it has struggled with its independence, and was great to read as I was traveling through the country.  However, I found it hard to read.  The structure of the book was awkward to me, and the way he explained things was off.  I think my struggle was with the cultural differences between most American/western authors and Indian authors because I have had the same difficulty with other Indian authors.  It just takes some getting used to!

The discussion should be up on the travelblogs site around December 1, so if you want great book ideas from other travelers, check it out!!

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