Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach is another one of those travel/life memoirs written by published authors or bloggers that seem to be so popular currently. Other books I would put in this category are Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Books written by Mike McIntyre also fall into this category.
These types of books are interesting because A) it’s a memoir and memoirs are always neat and B) the reader gets to learn about places they haven’t been to through the eyes of someone else rather than a bland overview from some history or travel book.
This book is about a woman named Alice. She spends an unspecified amount of time traveling around the world learning how to do various things. Apparently she also gets paid for doing all of this. I’m going to have to figure out how she landed this sweet gig so I can do the same. How come I can’t go to Havana? Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Havana at least once in their life?
Each section of Alice’s book is divided by location. The first place she goes it to Paris where she enrolls in the cooking academy at the Ritz Hotel. The Ritz Hotel, not the Ritz-Carlton, or whatever it’s called. We’re talking about the original Ritz Hotel in all its expensive glory. I have never desired to learn how to cook French food. I do like Julie and Julia, but I would rather cook other things. Call me rustic, or whatever. I also can’t have wheat so that kind of puts a damper on all those heavy French sauces and pastries, too bad, so sad. Alice summarizes her entire experience in Paris. She learns to cook, she makes some friends, and she plays at being wealthy by buying wine at the Ritz cafe. I do have to admit that I have never really desired to visit Paris before. About the only reason I would want to go is to see the Louvre, but Alice kind of opened up another view of Paris for me, which sounds much more interesting than people talking about how romantic the Eiffel Tower is.
After that, Alice goes to Kyoto, which I never had a chance to visit while I lived in Japan. It’s quite the shame because Kyoto has such a vibrant history and culture. In Kyoto, Alice learns several Japanese arts flower arranging, dancing and tea ceremonies. She talks to some actual Geishas and learns that the profession is not as illustrious as it used to be. It’s a really neat look at Kyoto.
Next she goes to Florence, Italy. I would also like to go to Florence and see all the frescoes and sculptures by all those seemingly similar named Italian artists. Alice’s description of Florence is great. She learns a lot about the art and architecture of the area. She also learns of a very damaging flood that swept the area in 1966. The people of Florence fought valiantly to save the priceless works of art that call the city of Florence home. I found it quite touching that rather than looting a flooded shop for the newest tennis shoes, the people of Florence rushed to save the works of art they considered their heritage. Oh, New Orleans, you make us ashamed sometimes.
Alice goes to England, where she does something. This section wasn’t that exciting. I’m having a hard time remembering what she did there. It had to deal with shoes.
Then Alice goes to Havana, Cuba. I would like to visit Havana, if you haven’t guessed already. Because of the way the government has worked in Havana for many years and the way other governments have treated Cuba, Havana has had this ability to develop its culture in something of a bubble. They have their own culture defined in ways by the United States, but not defined by anyone but themselves in other ways. I really enjoyed reading Alice’s descriptions and narrations of her adventures. If I ever get a chance to go to Havana, I’m going.
Alice goes back to France to visit a lot of gardens. I like gardening and all, but I’m totally not into the structured pleasure garden methods described in this section of Alice’s books. It was interesting to learn that there was such a market for olive trees several hundred years old just for people’s flower beds.
Alice then goes to Prague. I would like to go to Prague. She takes a writing class there and that’s about all she does. She does delve into the history of Prague during WWII. Prague was invaded by the Germans in 1939. All the stories of German invasion during WWII seem similar, but each invaded country adds its own feel to the invasion.
Last, Alice goes to Scotland where she works with sheep dogs. Honestly, I would like to visit Scotland, but I don’t want to play around with a bunch of sheep dogs when I go. I like dogs, I have a dog, but I don’t want to stand around a bunch of sheep and a dog. While reading this entire section I was thinking of the movie Babe, you know the movie with the pig that herded sheep?
What I liked
I really enjoyed reading about all of Alice’s adventures. I know she does have another book that is similar. It was a precursor to this book. I might read it someday if I ever come across it. I admit I am kind of jealous that Alice gets to travel around the world and then write about it.
Attention people who pay other people to travel around the world and write about it, I will willingly take your money and travel around the world, then write about it.
I can tell Alice really enjoys her adventures; it shows in the way she writes about them. I’m glad that she got to have all these experiences then turn them into a book for other people to experience.
What I didn’t like
A couple of sections were kind of boring. I forgot what Alice did while she was in England. I wasn’t overly impressed with her Scotland section or her second France section. All the other trips were pretty good though.
Alice kind of weaves some personal, hopeful romantic relationship in her book. I don’t know if it was really the place for it because this is a travel memoir, but then again, it also adds this personal touch. Elizabeth Gilbert did much the same thing in her book, but she did actually have some resolution in her relationship. The relationship Alice keeps feeding, perhaps one-sided, doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I kind of wanted to reach through the book and be like, “Look either say you like this guy and go move to Paris or Japan or where ever in the heck he lives, get married in Vegas, travel together the end. If that doesn’t work out for you, stop pining over this guy and be by yourself or go find another man. Someone did write a book one time called He’s Just Not That Into You.” The relationship may have actually had more meat than Alice lets on. I can’t see her boyfriend/friend/whatever ok’ing her writing this much about him in her book if they weren’t on good terms.
I liked Alice’s adventures, in Wonderland, no, not in Wonderland, in the world.
alice steinbach, author of without reservations, eat pray love by elizabeth gilbert, educating alice, educating alice adventures of a curious woman, educating alice: adventures of a curious woman by alice steinbach, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, mike mcintyre
Comical true life, History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Steinback-Alice