Bookworm: ‘World Travel’ is more of a celebration

Nancy Reagan, her inner thoughts, single-mindedness, and flubs

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“World Traveler: An Irreverent Guide” authors Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever.

“World Traveler: An Irreverent Guide”

  • By Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever
  • c. 2021, Ecco
  • $35, $43.50 Canada; 480 pages

Throw a dart at a map. After the last year, you’ll be happy to go wherever it sticks. Overseas, this continent, Down Under, in the middle of the ocean, it all sounds good. So, pack your bags and don’t forget “World Travel” by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever.

“World Traveler: An Irreverent Guide” by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever.

In early 2017, when they began kicking around the idea of another project, Woolever noted that Anthony Bourdain was already awfully booked. He was traveling, writing, working on TV, and had a new publishing imprint. Was another travel guide necessary?

She’d been his assistant for some eight years by then and she couldn’t turn him down when he started thinking about this book. They met once, to plan it, before he died.

In the two years after his death, she started to see that, indeed, the world needed one final word from Bourdain. Though this book was meant to be different, consisting of memoir-essays he would write, she began to understand that she had everything she needed to finish what he’d envisioned, through TV clips, past books, notes, and interviews with friends.

Starting with Argentina, Bourdain said he found “more headshrinkers per capita than anywhere else in the world.” He was prepared to dislike Vienna but did not. He explained why Cambodia surprised him, and why he was totally enchanted by Cuba. He described massages and saunas in Finland; “bespoke” shoes in London; unique, unforgettable smells in Vietnam; racism in Kenya; driving next to wildlife in the Serengeti; gambling in Macau; and he wondered why Americans don’t “love” Mexico more.

He wrote of eating Sichuan cooking in Australia and said that food was a big reason to go to Montreal. He wrote of going to a chop bar in Ghana and dancing; enjoying doubles in Trinidad; and sampling a world’s cuisine in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Massachusetts, Montana, New Orleans, Miami, and his beloved New York.

While you might find this book in the biography section or maybe with the travel guides in your library or bookstore, the fact is that “World Travel” is more of a celebration.

The fete is strongest when the late author Anthony Bourdain’s friends, family, and colleagues remember him. Those pages feel like a literary memorial service or the after-gathering, when everybody gets together to share stories and toast the deceased.

Then, though not every spot in the world has its own entry in this book, it’s close. Not every gustatory delight that Bourdain ever enjoyed gets a mention but you’ll find enough to satisfy your appetite, including the names of the places you’ll find those dishes (a good-thing-bad-thing, author Laurie Woolever writes in her introduction). Mostly, though, in the bulk of this book, you’ll find encouragement to seize every chance you get to roam the world, to see what Bourdain saw, and to challenge your tastebuds with cultural cuisine.

Overall, this book is a no-brainer for a fan. It’ll please any cook, any world-traveler, any been-home-too-long roamer, and every foodie around. For anyone who eats, “World Travel” is on-point.

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“The Triumph of Nancy Reagan”

  • By Karen Tumulty
  • c. 2021, Simon & Schuster
  • $32.50, $44.00 Canada; 672 pages

Behind every great man, they say, is a great woman. Though she may not take the limelight, she might run the show: she’s his advisor, conscience, sounding-board, partner, and manager. Think what you will about her, she doesn’t care; she embraces this work, even if, as in the new book “The Triumph of Nancy Reagan” by Karen Tumulty, the role takes her where she never thought she’d go.

"The Triumph of Nancy Reagan" author Karen Tumulty.

Within weeks of the birth of Anne Francis Robbins in 1921, her parents divorced, partly because her mother was an actress and her father wanted a homebody. “The full truth,” says Tumulty, was that a child “did not fit” in Edie Robbins’ life but single motherhood gained sympathy and attention. Once past babyhood and into the toddler stage, “Nancy” was all but abandoned by her mother at an aunt’s house.

This separation left the adult Nancy with lifelong anxiety which may’ve been exacerbated by romantic chaos: says Tumulty, Nancy’s first fiancé grew despondent about college grades and committed suicide; later, she innocently dated a man who was gay. Heartbroken, she dropped out of college and dabbled on-stage before landing a solid career in acting. By 1950, heart healed, Nancy had “fixed her sights” on the man she wanted.

He was married, but Ronald Reagan was estranged from his wife then.

“The Triumph of Nancy Reagan” by Karen Tumulty

Absolutely, it’s safe to say that he and Nancy were meant for each other and everyone, including their children and his ex-wife, knew it. Archived documents show his devotion to Nancy; seeing the way she looked at him, her steadfastness was obvious.

Nancy Reagan would follow her beloved husband anywhere.

Even when it led him to a life of politics, “On a road,” she said with great resignation, “we never intended to be on. Ever.”

Even if it stopped there, “The Triumph of Nancy Reagan” would be a fascinating read for Democrats and Republicans alike. But it doesn’t: this book goes on, deep into politics, behind-the-scenes in California and Washington, through Nancy Reagan’s headline-grabbing years, and into the memories of those who worked with Ronnie (as author Karen Tumulty calls him) and thus, by extension, with Nancy.

For a reader Of a Certain Age, that’s curiously and wonderfully nostalgic since it’s impossible to cleave the Reagan years from popular culture of the time. It’s also quite interesting to note the relevance of a Presidential administration of forty years ago to politics of today, which is something that readers of any age or party can enjoy. And yet, Tumulty doesn’t stray far from her main subject: all roads lead back to Nancy, her inner thoughts, single-mindedness, and flubs. That’s where the road ends, too, in passages that will leave even the harshest critic with a lump in the throat.

Again, this is a politically-deep book and it’s hard to read sometimes but if you’ve been watching politics at all in the past 30 years, you’ll devour it. For you, for a historian or biography-lover, “The Triumph of Nancy Reagan” is a book you’ll want in front of you.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.