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A Book of Travel and Self Discovery

The book Without Reservations, by Alice Steinbach is a delightfully gentle and wonderful adventure. Ms. Steinbach is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and in 1993 she decided to "take a chance and temporarily jump ship, so to speak, from the life I'd fashioned for myself." She reveals that she wasn't unhappy in her life, that her career as a journalist was fulfilling, but that she had spent so many years writing about other people's lives, she had neglected finding the joy and adventure in her own.

Steinbach is divorced, with two grown children, and although she considered herself an "independent woman," she had become a "dependent woman," by living by other people's definitions of who she was. So, deciding to be brave, she arranges a leave of absence from work and travels to Paris, London, and throughout Italy.

Her story is absolutely wonderful. The people she meets, the places she visits--it all adds up to a satisfying read that allows the reader to live vicariously (and enviously) through her adventure. I had read this book in 2002, and as I picked it up again this year to read for bookclub, I found the book marked and underlined all over the place. I had forgotten some of the profound insights I had marveled at the first time around.

In the beginning of her trip, in Paris, she did some people-watching from a cafe and made this observation: "[There] was a lesson I hoped to learn in the months ahead: how to stop rushing from place to place, always looking ahead to the next thing while the moment in front of me slipped away unnoticed."

Following her own advice, she takes time to befriend locals in each place she visits, and recognizes lessons learned that will apply to her present and future.  Sometimes when motherhood and the daily grind find me restless, I would do well to remember this Steinbach quote: "In the end, what adds up to a life is nothing more than the accumulation of small daily moments."

The book is so full of amazing quotes and observations--her overarching theme is a commentary on embracing the moment and not forgetting to appreciate the present. She also explores the idea that we can be brave and try something new, that one of the most unhealthy emotions we can have is to needlessly worry.

I hope you'll give the book a try--it's well worth the time spent. Next month’s read is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

~Nancy Campbell Allen

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