Exploring Kyoto by Judith Clancy

9781611720419_c37d9I feel so lucky that I’ve had the chance to live in Kyoto for an extended period of time.  It’s beautiful, surrounded by mountains on three sides and chock-a-block with history.  It’s the kind of place that when you tell people where you live you mention the closest temple or shrine.  “Oh!” locals say.  “It’s beautiful over that way.”

Clancy guides you around all parts of the city in 31 walks.  She’s been here since 1970 so she really knows her stuff.  History buffs will love the explanations about each attraction’s significance, and even those who loathe history ~raises her hand~ will gain an appreciation while staying interested.

Each walk starts with an overview and public transportation options to the start point.  Along the way notable shops and eateries are mentioned, often with price ranges so you know what you’re getting into.  Relevant tips about etiquette are scattered throughout and maps, photos, and a detailed index are included.

Boats awaiting passengers at Arashiyama.

After reading the introduction I checked out the walk for my favorite part of the city, Arashiyama.  It’s a mountainous district with a stunning river, temples, and iconic sights.  I’ve shown friends and family around it many times and all my favorite places are mentioned, from Tenryuji Temple and the Togetsukyo bridge to the bamboo forest and Iwatayama Monkey Park.  Clancy also recommends places I haven’t heard of – it turns out that until now I’ve missed out on Rakushisha, literally “the cottage of fallen persimmons”.  It’s associated with the poets Kyorai and Basho and the gardens have stones with poems carved into them.  I can’t wait to go the next time I’m over that way.

This is the books greatest strength – it covers all the “must-sees” while also directing you to underappreciated sites.  Japan and Kyoto in particular have been attracting more and more foreign visitors each year and many go to the same places, so getting off the beaten path provides a welcome respite from any crowds and a better look at the “real” Japan.

If you’re looking to spend any decent amount of time in Kyoto you can’t go wrong with Clancy as a guide.

Thanks to Stone Bridge Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson


78895Robyn Davidson’s opens the memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”

Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.

“An unforgettably powerful book.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

Now with a new postscript by Robyn Davidson.


Many travelogs are obsessive – here’s everything I did to prepare, here’s all the worries and fears I had, here’s a day by day account of what happened. Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country covers Australia in this way to great effect.

Tracks is nothing like that. You get dropped along with Davidson to a remote post and follow her as she scrapes together everything she needs to cross the Outback by camel. The first part of the book feels frenzied and unsettled, and while it may not be on purpose it serves the crazy time she had in Alice Springs. As the journey finally gets underway you can feel her slip into the ways of the desert and come into her true self through the more solid and considered writing style.

Davidson wrote this book two years after the journey and it provides her just the right amount of perspective and hindsight. A postscript written thirty years later is a fitting digestif and addresses some concerns I had while reading the book, first and foremost being “how the heck did they make this into a movie?!” Davidson writes:

First [my journey] was hijacked by my own book, then by Rick’s photographs, and any day now, by a film that will have almost nothing to do with ‘what really happened’.

Ahhh. Skipping that movie, then.

If you like being led on an adventure, if you’d like to learn something about the Outback, or if you’d like a reminder that nearly anyone can do anything as long as they don’t give up, this is the book for you.