This is a transcription of The Literary Fun of ‘80 Days’ and Two New Books — 16 June 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a memoir about the healing power of travel.
David: A book that might put you on a train in Europe.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I just finished the travel memoir Unpacking for Greece by Sally Jane Smith, and it’s a great read if you’re ready to start some imaginary summer travel. Or if you’re planning your own trip to Greece.
Melissa: The story opens with a bang. Literally. The author Sally Jane Smith is on a bus in Sri Lanka when there’s a head-on collision. Her next stop is a hospital, then home, where she heals her body. But she realizes she’s lost her travel mojo. And she wants it back. So she sets out on a solo trip to Greece, with her mother’s travel diary from 1978 as her companion. Her trip becomes a life-changing adventure.
Melissa: Sally’s itinerary took her to Athens and Meteora on the mainland, Sparta and other spots on the Peloponnese Peninsula, and the islands of Santorini and Rhodes — and we’re at her side for all of the sights. Her writing style is nice and easy, flowing seamlessly from vivid descriptions of landmarks to personal reflections to interesting bits of history. It’s like a conversation with an inquisitive friend who makes the most of every moment.
Melissa: Not long after her arrival in Greece, she’s on an organized tour and is kind of regretting the structure. She wants to get to know the city herself, and to do that, she says, you need to walk. ‘You need to climb steps, sniff the breeze, listen to the sounds of the city. You need to feel the cobbles beneath your feet and the sun’s heat on your neck as you consult maps and ask for directions and take wrong turns and find your way back again.’ She’s talking about getting to know a new place, but that’s a metaphor for life, too, right?
Melissa: The author, Sally Jane Smith, is an accomplished traveler. She’s lived on five continents and visited 33 countries. All of that experience makes her an excellent travel accomplice. This book is will transport you to Greece in the company of a curious, insightful, self-deprecating companion who will definitely share her olives with you. It’s Unpacking for Greece by Sally Jane Smith.
David: I love trains. They are my favorite way to travel. Particularly here in Europe. The cities are pretty close to one another, the train system works well, and they typically drop you off right in the middle of town. Plus, there’s all that sweet reading time. And train picnics. And no security to go through. All of which made me really excited about one of DK Publishing’s latest books, Europe by Train.
David: This is a book that gives you 50 different itineraries for exploring Europe by rail. So, maybe you want to see the Scottish countryside. Or go beach-hopping in Portugal. Or see the sites of Scandinavia in winter without worrying about getting your rental car stuck in the snow. Maybe you want to eat your way through Italy. Or do the grand European tour — London through Paris and Venice back up to Berlin. The book gives you an itinerary and about a page on each stop along the way. Just enough to get you excited, really.
David: It has some ideas about expensive routes — like hopping on the Orient Express. But it also points out that you could just follow the route of the Orient Express and spend a little more time in each city along the way. I love that idea a lot.
David: I should warn you that this book is not heavy with pratical details. For that, you might want to go to a site called ‘seat61,’ which will cover your train travel, and your favorite travel site for hotels and sightseeing ideas. And I should mention that there’s also a Lonely Planet Guide that covers similar territory: The Lonely Planet Guide to Train Travel in Europe.
David: If you’re interested in spending some time riding the rails around the continent, this is a fun read. It’s DK Publishing’s Europe by Train and it’s out now.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
Melissa: This is sort of an unexpected choice for me. I even surprised myself! Because I am not a gamer. Dave is the game in our family. But today, I want to tell you about the storytelling game 80 Days.
Melissa: It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game, based on the novel by Jules Verne. In the original — and in this game — Phileas Fogg has decided to set out on a tour around the world. He’s made a bet with the members of his posh London gentlemen’s club that he can travel east and circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. His companion is a Frenchman named Passepartout.
Melissa: In this game, it’s an alternate reality of the world in 1872. There’s a bit of the steampunk about it, so there are robots and rocket ships and fictional characters from Verne’s other books. There are 170 cities to explore, and while playing the part of Passepartout, you get to make decisions about where you go and how you get there. You can travel by airship, mechanical camel, hot-air balloon, steam-train — on the leg of my first journey from London to Paris, I was on a train that went underwater to Calais.
Melissa: Ostensibly, the goal of the game is to race around the globe in 80 days. But I don’t care about that. I like it because of the story and the way the story and game play are completely woven together.
Melissa: I’ve only played with 80 Days for a little while, but so far, it’s really holding up. On my first adventure, I accidentally killed Phileas Fogg! But on my second play, I made it back to London in time with money to spare, and we traveled all over the Middle East. It was super fun. The art is very pretty. You travel around an animated map. The modes of transportation are depicted as black and white illustrations, they kind of look like woodcuts, and they make noises and chug across the map.
Melissa: Instead of just reading the story, you get to influence it. There are animated conversations between characters where you choose your lines of dialogue. And you’re not forced to follow the route outlined in Verne’s novel. You can go wherever you like, as long as you head east. You also get to decide what goes into your suitcase. I started with an evening jacket and a deck of cards, just in case we got bored on our journey.
Melissa: Now that it’s summer, why not go all-in on Around the World in 80 Days? You could read the original and try the game. I also need to recommend the 2021 TV adaptation starring David Tennant as Phileas Fogg. It’s gorgeous to look at — they shot on location and it’s very lush. And they updated the story by adding a women journalist and making Passepartout a black Frenchman. Both of those adjustments add more drama and emotion to the story.
Melissa: Finally, in our newsroom episode, I recommended the adventure book Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. That tells the story of the real-life 19th-century American lady reporters who competed with each other to loop the globe in less than 80 days.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more about the books we discussed and links to everything you need to go all-in on Around the World in 80 Days.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
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