Frances Mayes: A Year in the World

I only heard the phrase “armchair travel” for the first time rececntly, but it is such an accurate phrase for travel literature, if only a bit disappointing that you, the reader, is stuck in the armchair and not actually traveling. I bring this up because I have discovered perhaps the best of recent armchair travel. I read A Year in the World by Frances Mayes this winter on a long road trip, and then devoured Under the Tuscan Sun after my subsequent trip to the bookstore. The woman is a genius.
A Tuscan Landscape
Tuscany, Italy

The novels are delightful. Her descriptions of traveling along coastal Europe kept me in a sort of dream state, thinking only of the vibrant colors and savory flavors she described. Which is exactly what I was looking for: a daydream to give me relief from my dreary midwestern winter (and spring).

But what captured me most, I think, is her ability to describe a place perfectly. She has this amazing ability to paint a perfectly detailed picture of where she is, while keeping her descriptions brief. She somehow manages to be lyrical and concise at the same time. Her books are beautiful, eloquent, and perhaps most enticing, they truly transport the reader to places they can hardly imagine.

Oh, and she also includes recipes. Lots of delectable recipes for foods of all sorts. My summer plans involve many of her recipes.

But I think the review on the cover of A Year in the World says it best: “Literate and seductive … this is Mayes in top form.” And seductive is the word. Even after finishing the book three months ago, I still would like nothing more than to tour the Lycian coast by sailboat and go for “a golden light swim” every night for a year. Until that happens, I can dream.

My next Frances Mayes excursion I am planning is a movie night with the film Under the Tuscan Sun staring Diane Lane.

A last suggestion– if you don’t have the time or money to invest in her novels, check out her website and blog. Her blog includes photos and recipes, as well as her trademark writing.


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