Local Author Reading List: Jill Coody Smits


It’s hard enough for us parents to find time to read, let alone to decide what to read. Head to the library and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the stacks upon stacks of interesting-sounding titles (who can blame us for judging a book by its cover?). Just keeping up with book lists can seem like a chore. That’s why we here at LiveMom are introducing you to local authors, who will be giving you the skinny on what’s on their reading lists…because who better than a writer to turn you on to new and interesting books?!

Jill Coody Smits
Jill Coody Smits

Summer will soon be upon us, and with it, an excuse to travel. For this installment of our Local Author List, we collaborated with Jill Coody Smits, the author of Paris When It Giggles: A Realistic Travel Guide for Adventurous Parents, to come up with a special travel-themed list of book recommendations. Paris When It Giggles provides an honest, first-person perspective on the ups and downs of Paris with kids through funny anecdotes, useful tips, dreamy illustrations and inspiring ideas. You can find the book locally at BookPeople or anywhere on Amazon and iTunes.

Final cover_PWIGJill’s work has appeared in Psychology Today, Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine, Southern Living, The Washington Post, CNN.com and GivingCity. She took a break from her research for the second destination to be featured in the “Realistic Travel Guide for Adventurous Parents” series (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it) to recommend the following five travel-themed books:

1. A Room with a View (Dover Thrift Editions)

Maybe I’ve always identified with Lucy Honeychurch because I met my husband in a New Zealand youth hostel. There’s something freeing about travel that brings out exactly who we are, as opposed to who we are supposed to be. In the case of Forster’s repressed Edwardian heroine, she is transformed by some decidedly un-Edwardian experiences during a visit to Italy with her prim cousin Charlotte. This very romantic novel will make you pine for a visit to Tuscany, but it is also wickedly funny, a little philosophical and surprisingly feminist. I’ve read this book several times throughout my life, and it always reminds me to be open to experience (and to stay out of muddles whenever possible).

2. Travels with Charley in Search of America: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

If there’s an antithesis to Lucy Honeychurch, it might be John Steinbeck. Here’s a man who’s seen and done just about everything; but, toward the end of his life, feels compelled to see America once again—this time with Charley, his trusty standard poodle, by his side. This 1962 travelogue of Steinbeck’s journey from Maine to California and back again is insightful, self-aware and keenly observant. At times, like when he considers urbanization, mass wastefulness and our fear and loathing of newcomers, he’s almost prophetic. Mostly, though, it’s simply fun to read about his and Charley’s interactions and adventures as they cruise around America in his souped-up truck, Rocinante. As an added bonus, there’s an entire chapter that hits hilariously close to home as Steinbeck reunites with his third wife, Elaine, for Thanksgiving among a bunch of drawling, blue-jeaned Texas aristocrats. Turns out, Elaine was born in Austin and was once married to our very own Zach Scott.

Advertisement3. Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris

Every good reading list should include a guilty pleasure, and this memoir is mine. When I first read it in 2003, Sarah Turnbull was speaking my language. While she met and fell in love with a Frenchman and lived in Paris, her funny insights into subtle cultural differences reminded me of similar experiences in my husband’s native Holland. This is a perfect beach or airplane read.

4.A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition

I am an unrepentant fan of Hemingway and his perfectly concise sentences. A googly-eyed adorer of A Moveable Feast, I thumb my nose at the countless critics who have over-dissected this sentimental version of a near-perfect Paris and its brilliant inhabitants. Published posthumously, A Moveable Feast is like Travels With Charley in that it was written near the end of the author’s life. Unlike Steinbeck’s travelogue, though, A Moveable Feast is a memoir, tinged with nostalgia, occasional spitefulness and (probably) a fair amount of embellished memory. If those are flaws, I don’t care.

5.Into Thin Air

I once bungee jumped over the Awaroa River in New Zealand. That, along with an ill-advised river surfing adventure, are the closest I’ve ever come to participating in anything one could call “extreme.” Maybe my inclination for relatively safe adventuring explains why I am always fascinated by what motivates others to do things like free climb El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, BASE jump Venezuela’s Angel Falls, or to attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest. There are many wonderful and inspiring accounts of brave adventurers, like Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years in Tibet, Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt and, on a different kind of level, even Bill Bryson’s hilarious A Walk in the Woods. But Krakauer’s mesmerizing account of the 1986 Everest tragedy continues to strike me in some different way. Maybe it’s because the tragedies keep happening, and people keep climbing. There’s something irrational in that fact, and something very hopeful about our need to explore.

Looking for more ideas on what to read? Take a look at our past Reading Mama Recommendations here.

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About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

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