Are You Experienced? On investing in memories

Posted in Asia, Clips, Travel on March 17, 2014 by frankbures

Cutler2013139-1-620x620It was after 17 hours – in no fewer than 10 vehicles – along a jolting, washed-out road between Thailand and Cambodia that I first appreciated some basic things about air travel. In a plane, there is no rain. There are no bags of fruit leaking unknown juices onto your backpack. There are no bruised tailbones from an entire day spent hammering over rocks and potholes. And on a plane, when you cross an international border, drinks are on the house.

I ran over this list of perks as I hung off the back of a pickup truck, watching my right foot disappear under layers of mud. My other leg was twisted underneath me, with no feeling left in it. My arms ached as I gripped a leaky plastic tarp that looked like it had been used for target practice by the Khmer Rouge. Periodically, the tarp pressed down in an inverted parachute that threatened to smother us all. Bridgit, my wife, was perched next to me, holding onto nothing but my pant leg.

Eventually we arrived in Cambodia, where our $3 room with a ceiling fan and a cold shower felt like the Ritz-Carlton on Maui. The next day, we walked around the ruins of the Angkor Kingdom.

I thought about that trip recently as Bridgit and I (now with a house in Minnesota and two daughters) sat down to look at our retirement planning. If you were an investment adviser, you would have been clicking your tongue and shaking your head. Bridgit, an accountant, clicked her tongue and shook her head.

Read the rest here.

Forgotten Ally (Review)

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips on March 13, 2014 by frankbures

Forgotten AllyWhen the popular World War II board game Axis & Allies was released in 1981, China was not on the board as either Axis or Ally. It wasn’t for another 20 years that the country would be incorporated into the game, and even then only as a separate power directed by the United States player.

This was far from the reality, as historian Rana Mitter points out in his new book, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). China, he writes, was not only a fourth Ally fighting the Japanese but key to the Allies’ victory.

History needs this correction for a variety of reasons. World War II was costly for the United States, but for China it was worse. For America, the war lasted four years. For China, it dragged on for eight. America lost almost half a million people in the fighting, while at least 14 million Chinese were killed. And while America had almost no combat on its own soil, China did, and it had nearly 80 million refugees as a result.

Read the rest here.

Burning Down the House: Somali malls, Chinese scrap, flammable art and more in Thirty Two #5:

Posted in America, Art, Clips, Culture on March 5, 2014 by frankbures

Issue_5After a long gestation, I’m happy to announce that Issue No. 5 of Thirty Two Magazine has finally come out. Regular readers will notice the design has changed, and is the cleanest yet for your clutter free reading. But the content hasn’t!  Here are a few of the pieces you’ll find inside:

1) A gorgeous photo essay by Priscilla Briggs on the the history and current state of the shopping mall, for which I wrote the text.

2) A fascinating interview with Bloomberg View China correspondent and author of Junkyard Planet, Adam Minter, in which he talks about the global recycling industry. He also calls out Apple Computers for their deceptive recycling campaign.

3) Jack El-Hai telling how he went from always thinking of the local angle to panning back and going bigger for his new book, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist. Elsewhere three other writers, Nicole Helget, Deni Bechard and Jen Percy, talk about the places they wrote their books.

There are also essays by Andy Sturdevant, Josh Cook, and a piece by Forest Lewis about Chris Larson‘s Bauhaus inferno that was titled Celebration/Love/Loss. There are profiles, histories, poetry and fiction (the last by Maggie Ryan Sandford).  And of course the lovely photography of Louisa Podlich.

Pick it up at one of these stores here. Or order it online here. Better yet, subscribe here!

Alone on the Ice (Review)

Posted in Books, Clips, Travel on February 23, 2014 by frankbures

images-1There was a time when large swaths of the earth were still uncharted, their history yet to be written. At the beginning of the 20th century, one of the last such places captivated the world’s imagination: Antarctica.

What lay at its center? What were its contours? These and other questions drove 
men such as Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen to risk everything. Their names are legendary, but a fellow polar explorer has slipped from our collective memory: Douglas Mawson. David Roberts gives him his due in Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013).

Read the rest here.

Runner, Interrupted

Posted in Africa, America, Clips, Culture, Words to live by on January 15, 2014 by frankbures

Runers's WorldA story I’ve been working on for two years, Runner, Interrupted, just hit news stands in the February issue of Runner’s World:

The sounds of the city grow faint. The air smells of pine, and the wind whispers through the branches. The Alaska Pacific University Trail is rough with rocks, and Marko Cheseto struggles for balance as he runs. Looking for even patches in the dirt, he chooses his steps carefully. Each one is a decision. Once, when he had feet, he flew through these woods. He flew through them faster than anyone ever had.

Cheseto, 30, remembers how things once felt beneath those feet: the light touch of the track, the roll of the trails, the give of the red earth he grew up running on. He remembers how far those feet carried him—from a tiny village in the Kenyan Highlands across the world to Alaska and a new life as a star runner. He remembers how they propelled him to victory. Sometimes, he forgets he doesn’t have those feet anymore.

markochesetotrack300x200But not today. Today he remembers. Today he’s wearing metal feet inside his running shoes, and they are no match for real feet that slide over rocks and roots like water.

Cheseto has run this trail countless times since arriving at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2008. It was through these woods that he pushed himself and his teammates and helped forge the Seawolves into a national force. And it was here that he took that last run, the one that transformed him from the greatest runner the school had ever known into… someone else.

Read the full story here.

“Italian Ways” (Review)

Posted in Books, Clips, Travel Writers on December 30, 2013 by frankbures

urlFrom The Rotarian:

Some of my most enduring memories from my time as a student in Italy are of being on trains. Many of those memories involve me giving the conductor my ticket, only to have him inform me that I had the wrong type of ticket, the wrong seat, or the wrong time. It’s a feeling Tim Parks channels brilliantly in Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013), which is as much about the Italian railroads as it is about Italy itself.

Like his other books, Italian Ways is the perfect corrective to the sun-dappled travelogues that have colonized our idea of the country. Parks has lived in Italy for 30 years, and his deep knowledge, keen observational powers, and masterful writing make him possibly the best writer on the country working today.

Read the rest here.

So Long 2013, and Thanks for all the Editing

Posted in Writing on December 27, 2013 by frankbures

bae13As every editor knows, writers are thin-skinned, ungrateful, egomaniacs. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m not the exception. So in a small effort to redeem myself, I’d like to thank the editors who helped me out in the past year, which was a rewarding one. The editors who kept me from embarrassing myself in print don’t get awards, but I was lucky to get a few in 2013, and those awards belong to my editors as well. So let me just thank them here publicly.

0324CoverAt the top of the list is David Rowell at the Washington Post Magazine, one of my favorite editors in the world. Of the three stories I’ve done with him, all have gotten some sort of recognition, including two this fall:  The Fallout, about nuclear tourism, which got the Bronze Lowell Thomas Award, and The Reunion, about going back to Tanzania after 15 years, which was selected as “Notable Travel Writing” in the Best American Travel Writing 2013. Both are the kind of human stories I love to tell and that David knows how to work with so well.

318272_258636767576603_2091973615_nAlso mentioned as a notable story in the Best American Essays 2013 was The Fall of the Creative Class. For that story’s very existence, I have Katie Eggers to thank. In Thirty Two Magazine she has almost single-handedly created an amazing cultural space for that piece and many others to exist. By this point in my career, I’m fully aware of just how rare such spaces are and of how lucky we are to have Katie here doing what she does. (No, Europe, you can’t have her back.)

batw13Porter Fox is the brains (and brawn) behind the new tablet magazine Nowhere, which is beautiful and has become one of the bastions of narrative travel writing since World Hum’s metabolism slowed. Porter is a veteran in the magazine business (I remember pitching him a story at Powder circa 2000) and I was lucky he was willing to work over my rough-hewn, orphaned story on Djibouti, The Crossing, into something palatable. It subsequently won a Silver Lowell Thomas Award and was on the list of list of “Notable Travel Writing” in the Best American Travel Writing 2013.

There are many other editors I worked with this year who I should thank as well, namely the wonderful Jenny Llakmani at The Rotarian who lets me range over wider territory than I have any right to. And Christine Fennessy, who hung in there for two grueling years working on a monster of a story that will appear in Runner’s World in February of 2014. And lastly, but not leastly, Kevin Larimer at Poets & Writers, who has been hammering my stories into shape for more than a decade now.

Thanks to you all for the hard work. It’s appreciated far more than you know.


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