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The art of the wasted day
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Timelessness It begins--July afternoon--under the shade of the beechnuttree. The tree belongs to Mr. Kinney, the shade is ours. It must be 1953,because the Magnavox has just been delivered from McGowan's TV and Appliance onGrand. It's not just for watching Lucy, my mother says, already mistrusting it."You're seeing history." She points to the first smudged image she allows us tosee--the Koreans and Chinese and Americans signing their names in a big Bibleybook. "Peace," she says, settling in with her cigs, the chipped cloisonnéashtray at hand. An announcer drones from the glass box, murmuring names.One after another, men approach the heavy table to sign the book, each handinga fountain pen to the next. Mother taps her cig against the little Chineseashtray, a gift, she tells me, from her uncle who was a U.S. Customs agent inSan Francisco, half a world away from us in St. Paul. He got the ashtray whenhe broke an opium smuggling ring, she says proudly. He left the ashtray to her. "Did he steal it?" I ask. She looks startled. "Not exactly," she says uncertainly,turning back to the television. This is going to take a long time, the menhanding the pen back and forth. History, it turns out, is boring. So I come out here, throw myself on the ground where thefeathers of the beechnut sway and tilt. The green filigree patterns the sky, light filters my face. It's hard (the ground), yet also soft (the sponge oflawn). I shut my eyes. The Customs agent uncle, dead before I was born, isstanding on a San Francisco dock. Does he have a gun? He has a badge, that Isee. He lifts the blue cloisonné ashtray out of a burlap bag, and a Chinese manhas his hands up in the air. He has a long pigtail I recognize from theblack-and-red lacquer tray Mother brings up with soup and saltines when we're sick in bed. There must be a gun somewhere, but where is it? The scene fades, and a fresh image appears, our next-doorneighbor Mr. Kinney, who presents himself in the dark for no reason. There heis, filling my mind.   Mr. Kinney is a widower. My mother says his wife has beendead "forever." A hush of respect hovers over this fact. Because he is awidower and because he "has money," he has a housekeeper. She doesn't like me.She wears a flowered apron trimmed with rickrack, and herdesignation--housekeeper--makes her slightly sinister. Who has a housekeeper? Notnormal people. Only Mr. Kinney, a widower without children but with money. Heowns the coke factory near the zoo, a place of foreboding, heaps of blackenedcoal, acrid, smoking. "They'll have to clean that up one day," my father says. Mr. Kinney sits in his glassed-in sunporch before dinner,sipping whiskey from a lowball glass. He drinks after dinner too, slowly,meditatively. He reads, his old smooth head glowing under the floor lamp. Hehas decided against a television set, he informs my father who has inquired if,with the windows open in summer, the sound of the Magnavox carries. We've allnoticed the nasty bark of the laugh track, nothing like real laughing. He's decided to stick with books, Mr. Kinney tells myfather. He also listens to the radio as Halsey Hall calls the ball game in avoice juicy from a chewed cigar. You can see Mr. Kinney leaning back in hissloping armchair, eyes closed, following the game. Another person who shuts hiseyes to see. In the summer you can hear the metallic chink of ice in thelowball glass. He drinks alone, my mother says. When you close your eyes, you see and hear things youdidn't notice before, though they must have been there all along. It's not thatyou make things up--you notice things. Maybe that's a kind of making up? Hard tosay. But it's all more real than history blatting away in the living room wheremy mother stares at the gray glass, tapping her cig against the little saucerof the blue ashtray taken from the Chinese man with his hands above his head.Mother is still there, as the pen passes from a Chinese man to an American andon to the next and the next. She's happy. She's watching peace occur in thewide world. Peace is vital to her: We had to drop the bomb, darling. It endedthe War. It saved lives.   But now, here, under the shade of the beechnut, I floatpast the Customs agent and the Chinese smuggler, over the disapproving face ofMr. Kinney's housekeeper, above mild Mr. Kinney himself, swirling his oilydrink on his sunporch. Day after day, night after night during my endlessgirlhood I float away like this. My father says Mr. Kinney takes his bourbon on the rocks.Mr. Kinney is slipping down a craggy cliffside under a shower of coal dust. Heteeters off his sunporch--takes his bourbon on the rocks, drinks alone. There's something orchestral about all this. My father'svoice, my mother's, the chink of ice, the echo chamber of that word--alone. Amelodic moan struggles out of the sad-souled vowel at the word's deadcenter--the sob at the core of alone. O! The stagey hand-on-heart intonation atthe beginning of poems that Great-Aunt Aggie recites--O to be in England, O fora beaker of the warm South . . . Bourbon on the rocks. Well, it's sad,darling--he drinks alone. O! O! Words are partly thoughts, but mostly they're music, deepdown. Thinking itself is, perhaps, orchestral, the mind conducting the world.Conducting it, constructing it. I sense this instinctively. There is no language for this, not then, not even now,this inner glide, articulation of the wordless, plotless truth of existence.Life is not made up of stories, much as I adore them--Charlotte, Heidi, CaddieWoodlawn. Really, life is--this. It's a float, my body a cloud drifting along,effortless but aware. Drifting over the world, seeing, passing along. Years later, peering across from the Kinney sunporch toours, Mr. Kinney's housekeeper glimpses me roiling around on the couch with myfirst boyfriend and reports this to my grandmother, who conveys theintelligence to my mother--She had a hippie boy out there--with the vindicatedface of a tattling teacher's pet. At eight I don't yet see the hippie boys or the claspingand kissing, but already I recognize the look on the housekeeper's face. It isthe aggrieved visage of the unloved, thwarted, and denied. The flaccid cheeksslip downward, the sour line of the lips tightens. That sharp eye on the prowl,passing from the back door to the trash can with her bag of refuse, frowning atme lolling under the shade of her employer's beechnut tree. She's a busybody. She recognizes me too for what I am: her natural enemy. Agirl up to no good, lazing my days away, conducting music no one else hears. Atime-waster. A daydreamer.  Which poses a problem: in a few months we will make ourFirst Confession. We have reached the age of reason. Sister says we now knowthe difference between Good and Evil. She has given us the buff-coloredBaltimore Catechism and directed us to the "Examination of Conscience" at theback to help us prepare for our first whispered recitation in the basement ofSt. Luke's. The Ten Commandments are listed, each with its complement of sinsand "occasions of sin," which are to be avoided. I have located Disobedience (number 4) and Lying (number8) as my province, as well as the diffuse "Unkind Gossip," an all-purpose sinthat seems to belong to no particular commandment, but exists as an aura aroundall human relations. Then I reach the combined list of sins and occasions ofsin for Commandments 9 and 10, where all the Coveting goes on. There,shockingly, without explanation, is the word. Daydreaming.  Busted. An official sin, ratified by the BaltimoreCatechism. I stare at it, disbelieving. To refuse to admit to a sin listed in the "Examination ofConscience" is a disobedience more profound--this I know--than the trivialitiesagainst my mother and father I've been toting up for presentation to FatherKennedy in the little curtained box in St. Luke's basement. A bad confession isthe worst sin of all. Mortal. But daydreaming, this effortless flight of the mind? I'mthunderstruck. Yet also oddly confirmed. A faint bell chimes within--of coursethe imagination is up to no good. You know that, you were born knowing that.It's the real, the true occasion of sin. Under the beechnut tree, leavesswishing, the sound of the oily sluice--chink, chink-chink--alone on the rocks. Oalone. But connected to everything, conducting the unheard harmony that is thetruest music. The sweetness of it, lolling under the filtered light of heaven.You possess everything that passes through the mind. It's divinity. That mustbe the sweetness. That must be the sin. I don't just mentally reject this sin. I tra-la my waypast it. A higher editorial power takes over. I unsee it, unread it. That'spart of this daydream paradise--unthinking my own thinking. I excise the wordfrom the Baltimore Catechism, from my mind. I'm gripped by refusal. It's a formof loyalty. I'm never letting go of this. The tendency to float, to depart, to rest--this powerresides within me. It's right in there, jammed into the space where I've beentaught conscience also resides--inside. Listen to your inner voice, children. Itwill guide you. Right here, Sister says, not reaching up to her wimpled head,but touching a pale hand to her obscure bosom under the gloomy tarp of herhabit. Right here. That's where truth is. You always know--if you consult here.No one questions--I still have not questioned--that there is an inner voice to beheard. I don't hesitate. I throw my lot with the occasion ofsin. I already know (or believe--which comes to the same thing in my Catholicworldview) that daydreaming doesn't make things up. It sees things. Claimsthings, twirls them around, takes a good look. Possesses them. Embraces them.Makes something of them. Makes sense. Or music. How restful it is, how full ofmotion. My first paradox. I couldn't care less what it's called. It's purepleasure. Infinite delight. For this a person goes to hell. Okay then. Though I don't yet know it, though Sister has her hand onher breast, this is what is called the life of the mind. It's what I want todo. It's where I want to be. Right here. - Fast forward. More than forty years, and what's become of"the life of the mind"? Hand on heart, the inner voice still murmuring? I'vetaken my place, middle seat, my husband on the aisle, a plump woman alreadyseated by the window. I fasten my seat belt, low and tight as instructed. Myhusband takes my right hand, gives it a squeeze, opens his book. The plane taxis forward, the woman next to me is lookingwith pleasant curiosity out the window. Blue skies, no wind. We lift off, levitating at a rather sharp angle, withoutshimmy or rattle or bobble. A confident plane. We're up cleanly at a sheerslant. And I'm dying. It is impossible to breathe in this canister hurlingitself on high. The thing is not properly pressurized. No one can breathe inhere. We will all die, or--another possibility occurs in the same instant--we mayland safely, but we'll be a planeful of brain-damaged droolers. Alive, butgone, gone. I have picked up on the truth sooner than the others. Butdidn't teachers often say I was quick? In a moment these poor souls will beleaping from their places, madly clawing for air. At least I will die withdignity. My eyes fasten on a hopelessly unaware man farther forward on theaisle, sitting calmly with his newspaper open. I wait for him to leap up, hurlthe paper aside, clutch his throat. He won't be dying with dignity. But I will.I sit still, frozen in my dignity. The woman by the window has taken my left hand. She'sstroking it. "You're all right," she's saying. "I'm a labor and delivery roomnurse, and you're all right." Does she think I'm pregnant? I'm over fifty. "You're all right," she keeps saying. Very annoyingsingsong. "Look at your hand." I look. There it is. And her hand, stroking mine. "See? It isn't blue. If you were dying your hand would beblue." It would? I realize I'm gasping. Loudly, raggedly. I haven't been dying with dignity. I have been making--amstill making--weird gagging sounds, desperate, wild. My husband looks alarmed.He has taken my other hand. I feel bound, and rip my hands away from thesedeluded hand-holders who somehow are managing to breathe in this airlesscylinder. The labor and delivery nurse hands me the airsickness bagfrom the seat pocket. "Breathe into this," she says, commanding now, notgentle. "Put the bag to your mouth, bend your head. Breathe. In. Out. Breathe.Out. Out. Deep out." This I do. "You're having a panic attack," she says. "You aren't dying." What does she know? Everything in me tells me I'm dying. I'm a writer. I trust my instincts, I live by my wits. But I do as she says,breathing deep into the bag. No one is leaping around. That gets through to me.Only my husband looks bug-eyed, leaning toward me, but no longer touching mebecause I have batted him away. "You're not dying," the nurse repeats with irritatingcertainty. "You've got too much oxygen in your system. Breathe out. Deep. Deep!Out! We'll get that carbon dioxide level up. You're having a panic attack," shesays again. She pats my leg briskly, not unkindly. She's seen this before. She hits the call button. I'm given a glass of water."Drink." Breathe, drink, live to see another day. Live to tell the tale. "Better?" the nurse says pleasantly after the water isgone. A pat on the leg. "Better?" Not really. Not dying, but not better. My husband isthanking her profusely. He's holding my hand. I allow this, my cold meat pattyin his beautiful warm, dry hand. His beautiful hand I've always loved. I loveit again, which is a sign I'm not dying. The nurse has turned back to thewindow, enjoying the bed of pillowy clouds we rest upon. Excerpted from The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

LIKE A LITERARY companion to Google Earth, a host of new books zero in on points across the globe from Alaska to Iran, the Middle East to Mesoamerica, Khartoum to Calcutta and, of course, Paris (we'll always have Paris), providing highly individual answers to the question: Why do we travel? Patricia Hampl isn't sure we should. Raised in Minnesota, educated by nuns, she long sought to reconcile her Roman Catholic school appreciation of the "inner voice" with her "native" Midwestern trait: "the desire to be elsewhere." Early in THE ART OF THE WASTED DAY (Viking, $26), she reaches back to Chaucer to grasp the roots of wanderlust. "Springtime, after a winter cooped up, and everyone wants to hit the road," she writes, paraphrasing his zestful Canterbury pilgrims. Hampl suspects that a less cheery impulse motivates contemporary American wanderers, a national mania - encoded in the Declaration of Independence - to pursue happiness, rather than "stay put" and simply be happy. But after the death of her husband, she found that her enjoyment of her quiet hours had palled. To rekindle her pleasure in her own company, she embarked on "a tour of the heroes of leisure," men and women like the "sluggish, lax and drowsy" French philosopher Montaigne, who holed up in a drafty tower to write his "Essais" ; the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel, who founded the science of genetics as he cultivated his abbey's garden; and the reclusive 18th-century Welsh BFFs known as the Ladies of Llangollen. Here Hampl finds proof of the endurance of "the sane singular voice, alone with its thoughts," which doesn't need to cross mountains to express itself. fn ALONE TIME: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (Viking, $27), Stephanie Rosenbloom, a travel columnist for The New York Times, set out on her own for a more practical purpose. Learning that increasing numbers of Americans were taking vacations-for-one, she decided to test-drive the trend in some of the world's most sociable cities, fn so doing, she not only dispels the stigma attaching to solo travel, she debunks the myth of the "supposed horror of solo dining." fn Paris, she picnicked amid the promenades of the Luxembourg Gardens, feasted on oysters at the Closerie des Lilas and ambled through Balzac's home, Hampl-style. fn Istanbul, she lolled in the steamy Cemberlitas hamam, fn Florence, she communed at the Uffizi with the most ogled woman in the world, Botticelli's Venus. "1 liked to be alone in Constantinople," Greta Garbo said. So, Rosenbloom discovered, did she. But she also explored New York, her hometown, as if she were a tourist: "Savoring the moment, examining things closely, reminiscing - these practices are not strictly for use on the road. They're for everyday life, anywhere." The veteran adventure writer Levison Wood had no desire to go it alone on his 2016 trek through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, which culminated in a death-defying crossing of the bandit-ridden mountain jungles of the Darién Gap. For one thing, as a seasoned British paratrooper, Wood is steeped in esprit de corps. But walking the Americas: i,soo Miles, Eight Countries, and One Incredible Journey From Mexico to Colombia (Atlantic Monthly, $27) reveals a less sentimental reason for the author's fondness for company. Without the translation skills and acute regional spider-senses of his compañero, the Mexican photographer Alberto Cáceres, Wood might have been kidnapped, or worse, by the desperadoes they encountered. His latest wanderlog, a selfdeclared "tale of adventure in the modern age," continues the exoticizing, thrill-a-minute tradition of "King Solomon's Mines" and Indiana Jones. For four months, the friends forded streams, plunged into skull-filled cenotes, slithered up muddy ridges, skirted quicksand, huddled in bat caves and hacked through forests filled with tarantulas, scorpions, poison frogs, jaguars and fer-de-lance snakes. There were rewards along the way, from hugging a "dopey" sloth to summiting Costa Rica's Mount Chirripó at dawn. "We stood in wonderment while the sky grew redder and the sun rose above the eastern horizon," Wood writes. "To the east shone the Caribbean Sea, merging into the sunrise, and with a sweep of 180 degrees, 1 looked behind me, and there was the golden panorama of the Pacific; two oceans from one vantage point, separated by one narrow spit of land." At the edge of the Darién Gap, Wood came across a sign on the Pan-American Highway that read: "12,580 km to Alaska." Unbeknown to him (presumably), another explorer, Mark Adams, had completed his exploits of the northern reaches of that road soon before Wood began his down south, fn THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier (Dutton, $28), Adams repeats the steps (and oar strokes) of the 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska. Fifty years before the territory became a state, the Gilded Age entrepreneur Edward Harriman led a reconnaissance tour of the Alaskan coast, starting in Seattle, heading north through the Inside Passage, up to the Gold Rush town of Skagway, on to the former Russian capital, Sitka, and from there to Kodiak Island, the Aleutians and "obscure places ... labeled UNKNOWN on maps." Among the passengers were the eminent naturalist John Muir and George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society. Taking a boat into Glacier Bay, Adams observes sea lions clustered on low rocks "like ants on a dropped lollipop," then turns in time to spot six spouting whales. Jumping from ferry to kayak, he glides with a guide into a cove dominated by a "neon-blue glacier" and sets up camp on Russell Island, "a cathedral of ice," to behold the Grand Pacific Glacier. Adams and his guide wake in that breathtaking setting to a heart-stopping spectacle: two grizzly bears nosing around their tent. After trying to scare them off, the men high-tail it for the kayak. Later, Adams meets a cruise ship pilot who had spotted them on the beach before the ursine invasion. "1 thought, Man, look at that setup!" the pilot tells him. "Those guys must be having the time of their lives." He wasn't wrong. The British geography professor Alastair Bonnett has a flair for communicating his passion for "the glee and the drama, the love and the loathing" that emanate from the earth's most perplexing and mutable places. Prudently, he has gathered 39 of these protean zones between two covers, so readers will know what on earth (or water) he's talking about. And if BEYOND THE MAP: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias (University of Chicago, $25) doesn't produce a tsunami of new geography majors, he isn't to blame. Had you heard that a peat bog as big as England was discovered in Congo only four years ago? Were you aware of the term "spikescapes" - public spaces that urban planners mine with booby traps, like benches barbed with steel prongs and rosy flourescent lighting that showcases acne, spooking teenage loiterers? Don't you wish you could visit the massive film set in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, the size of two football fields, built between 2006 and 2011 to hold a disturbingly exact replica of 1950s Moscow, where thousands of drably clad actors re-enacted Soviet life, including nighttime visits by the K.G.B.? Bonnett's provocative detours show us how much more we can know of the known world, if we know where to look, and how. Still, some places are harder to access than others. When the journalist Stephan Orth traveled to Iran, he was aided by the accident of his German nationality. Americans have a hard time getting visas to the country and it's not much easier for others. Nonetheless, like a web-savvy denizen of Bonnett's 16th stopping point, "Cybertopia," Orth used the internet to launch himself into a fantastical realm that happens to be real. In couchsurfing in iran: Revealing a Hidden World (Greystone, paper, $16.95), he describes the openhearted reception he encountered in that closed country, where he found lodging in the homes of ordinary Iranians who put him up free during his two-month trip. This was brave of them because, as Orth's host in Shiraz explained, taking in foreigners is forbidden. "Be quiet and don't speak English on the street," he is warned. "Otherwise, the neighbors will hear you." Orth found his hosts mostly through the app "Couchsurfing," an international enterprise that pairs travelers with sociable locals. City by city, he winged it, texting his hosts to arrange meeting points. On the island of Kish, in the middle of the night, he fished for bream and catfish with a die-hard Iranian fan of the American motivational speaker Anthony Robbins. In Isfahan, he played guitar (Adele and Metallica) for a classroom of schoolboys. And in Tehran, he joined a clandestine gathering of mild-mannered BDSM devotees in a public park. "The people here are hungry for news from other countries," he observes, adding that outsiders are just as hungry for on-the-ground knowledge of Iran. "I have an explicit answer to the question of whether you should visit a country where you are at odds with the political leadership," he writes. "There are no bad places if the reason you are traveling is to meet people." The novelist Jamal Mahjoub has been at odds with the political leadership of Sudan for much of his life. Born in London in 1960 to a Sudanese journalist and a British accountant, he was raised in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. He went to England for college and stayed abroad thereafter. His parents remained in Khartoum until 1989, when an Islamist coup spurred them to move to Cairo, never to return. But in 2008, Mahjoub began a series of his own returns. A LINE IN THE RIVER: Khartoum, City of Memory (Bloomsbury, $30) explains why. It is said, he writes, that from the sky the city resembles an elephant's head ("khartoum" means "trunk" in Arabic). But on his visits, he saw that Khartoum's outward face had changed, studded with towering buildings courting oil-industry wealth. Beneath the boomtown mask, he detected a palimpsest of the past, from imperial interference (Egyptian, British) to the rise of the charismatic "Mahdi" to the demise of Maj. Gen. Charles Gordon, which provoked Lord Kitchener to reassert British influence. When, in 1956, the British relinquished their hold, Khartoum was reborn as the capital of the Republic of Sudan. Why, Mahjoub asks, has his country made so little use of its freedom? "Out of half a century of independence Sudan has seen 40 years of civil war." With this book, he wanted to trace "the evolution of the tragedy of a nation never achieved," a task he likens to "trying to throw a rope around a cloud." While Mahjoub's fascination with Khartoum is largely political, the journalist and political scientist Kushanava Choudhury takes his own hometown extremely personally. Passionate and pugnacious, Choudhury's epic city: The World on the Streets of Calcutta (Bloomsbury, $28) reveals a man head over heels in love with a badly behaved but alluring metropolis. Westerners see his city as "the epitome of urban hell, the Detroit of the world," but to him, the city's flaws can't dispel its enchantment. Although born in Buffalo, Choudhury lived in Kolkata, as the city is now known, until he was almost 12, when his family moved back to the United States. Resistant to American transplantation, he pined for the chaotic hubbub of West Bengal and after graduating from Princeton returned to Kolkata to work for an English-language newspaper. Back in Bengal, he exulted in the "aimless, digressive" conversational pastime known as adda; savored the street food; admired the gaudy chariots and costumed revelers that thronged narrow lanes during Hindu festivals; and embraced the whoosh of the monsoon rains that send the tarpaulin roofs of sidewalk restaurants "flying open like giant capes." He left again to study at Yale, but returned after he got his doctorate, with his grad-school girlfriend, soon-to-become wife, Durba, in tow. Immune to her husband's magnificent obsession, she protested when he mocked her preference for Western-style coffee shops over tea wallahs whose stands faced open gutters. "Who do you think you would marry who would be happy here?" she exclaimed. But "Epic City" makes it clear that Choudhury's heart already belonged to another. What living woman can compete with an immortal old flame? Amore placid female smoothed Shoba Narayan's re-entry to India when she moved with her husband and young daughters to Bangalore - southern India's tech hub and finance center - after nearly 20 years in the United States. That female was a cow, whom she encountered in her building's elevator, "angled diagonally to fit," heading three floors up to bless a housewarming. "You'd think that a modern democracy like India would get over this cow obsession," she thought, amused; but after mulling it over, she hustled upstairs to ask the cow to bless her apartment, too. The friendship Narayan struck up with Šarala, the cow's escort, forms the subject of her amiable memoir, the MILK LADY OF BANGALORE: An Unexpected Adventure (Algonquin, $24.95). At first, Narayan was wary of the earthy, grassysmelling unpasteurized milk Šarala sold, produced by cows that grazed in the neighborhood. Before long, though, she became an "evangelist," inviting neighbors over for coffee in hopes of converting them to fresh milk. Soon she resolved to buy a cow to donate to Sarala's herd, scouring nearby villages for a candidate. "This is a good cow," the owner of a Holstein-Friesian assured her. "Its milk will taste like ambrosia." Sold. As her new acquisition munched betel nuts, coconut and bananas, Narayan decided the creature was "positively Zen" and named her "Blissful Lakshmi," for the goddess of wealth. Rick Bass had other sacred cows in mind when he began a multistop literary and gustatory pilgrimage a few years back. Reeling from an unsought divorce and yearning to reinforce his bonds with the authors and artists who had shaped his writing life, he devised a soul-nourishing, roadburning act of tribute. He would leave his log cabin in Montana's remote Yaak Valley, travel to the homes of his mentors and thank them by cooking them a meal. In the record of this culinary catharsis, THE TRAVELING FEAST: On the Road and at the Table With My Heroes (Little, Brown, $28), Bass serves up a rich smorgasbord of a memoir, truffled with pungent anecdote, sometimes funny, sometimes sorrowful, always savory. The melancholic power of these reunions is heightened by the reader's awareness that some of these literary lions (Peter Matthiessen, Denis Johnson, John Berger) were soon to roar their last. But there's also abundant hilarity, usually provided by Bass's mountain-man approach to the dinner table. Whether the GPS points to Wisconsin (Lorrie Moore), the "meadow-scented green wonder of West Sussex" (David Sedaris), the French Alps (Berger) or northern Idaho (Johnson), Bass loads the cooler with salmon, elk and rhubarb, like a bear on holiday. At Tom McGuane's place in Montana, he attempts to grill a turkey, producing a "sonic blast" that rocks the house, burns "like a comet" and blazes in a golden "molten, gurgling, flaming corona." At Berger's farmhouse, on the other hand, where a crowd of friends and family has gathered, every course is perfection. As Berger pours out wine "like rich paint in our sunlit crystal goblets," Bass reads grief in his host's eyes. Remembering that Berger's wife of 40 years, Beverly, had died not long before, he recalls the emotion that gave rise to his pilgrimage: his fears, as a suddenly single man, about what the rest of his life would look like. "What do I need?" he asks Berger. "Courage" is the reply. THE ROAD TRIP BOOK: 1001 Drives of a Lifetime (Universe, $36.95) requires a different kind of courage, as well as, in some cases, "nerves of steel, a seriously capable vehicle and very good health insurance." Covering "every country on the planet that was feasibly accessible at the time of publication," this ravishing and sometimes hair-raising bucket list for the bucket seat was assembled by ace roadtripping writers and edited by the "motoring journalist" Darryl Sleath. Don't mistake it for a mere coffee-table book: Although its lavish photographs invite armchair daydreams, this tome doubles as a reference work. Each entry includes a Google Maps link and helpful tips (if driving in Bhutan, be advised that roads are generally eight feet wide, tops, unpaved and "subject to severe landslides"), and the drives are organized according to an orderly geographic scheme and meticulously indexed. Especially tempting entries include the Beartooth Highway drive, which starts in Montana, with stunning views onto Yellowstone's glacial lakes, pine forests, waterfalls and mountains; the Trollstigen National Tourist Route in Norway, whose hairpin curves reward those who don't need Dramamine; and, in Northern Ireland, the "Game of Thrones" drive, which begins at the Titanic Studios in Belfast, heads north past the Antrim coast, and loops round to the Cushendun Caves, before descending to the spooky Dark Hedges on the King's Road. Fasten your seatbelts! LlESL schillinger, a critic and translator, is the author of "Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century."

  Publishers Weekly Review

Novelist Hampl (The Florist's Daughter) offers a wonderfully lavish and leisurely exploration of the art of daydreaming. As an eight-year-old child in a Catholic household, Hampl learned that daydreaming was considered to be one of the "occasions of sin" in the Baltimore Catechism. She made her decision then: "For this a person goes to hell. Okay then." Decades later, retired and widowed, she commits herself to the task of wasting her life "in order to find it." Here, Hampl reveals her true purpose: to write a book for baby boomers who "are approaching the other side." Hampl leads by example. She visits the home of Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, two women who discovered that "the act of leaving the world's stage" could be the "best way to attain balance and... integrity." Hampl enjoys leisurely meals in south Moravia where she ponders the patient monastic life of Gregor Mendel. Later, she visits Michel de Montaigne's tower in southwest France. As Hampl rumates and escapes, her late husband is palpably present. Hampl captures art of day dreaming with astonishing simplicity and clarity in this remarkable and touching book. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Modern life only seems to become increasingly hectic and stressful, as we try to cram more into each day. In her sparkling new book, acclaimed author Patricia Hampl argues for the necessity of daydreaming and leisure in our over-amped lives.<br> <br> Written out of a lifelong fascination with contemplation, solitude, and silence, The Art of the Wasted Day is a picturesque travelogue of leisure. Hampl visits to the homes of several exemplars of leisure from the past, who made repose and seclusion their goal, indeed their art form. She braids her own life stories into these pilgrimages- lazing her days away as a young girl, daydreaming under a beechnut tree; undertaking a retreat at a Benedictine monastery; floating down the Mississippi River in an old cabin cruiser boat, a "sheer, dreamy waste of time" that turns out, after all of her international questing, to be the greatest travel experience of her life.<br> <br> The job of being human, Hampl suggests, is getting lost in thought, and only leisure can safeguard reflection. The Art of the Wasted Day is a timely, compelling, beautifully written celebration of the purpose and appeal of letting go.
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