I have a note in my phone that runs three long scrolls down, filled with books I want to read. When it came to Christmas and my birthday, and I couldn’t remember exactly what every book was, I would play Title Roulette and copy and paste random titles into a new Safari page to skim the description. But some books lingered in my unconscious, and felt like love (or at least, infatuation) when I locked eyes with their title. And it was an, “Ah, yes, you. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Geraldine DeRuiter’s memoir All Over the Place was that for me.
Well, mostly. I caught a glimpse of the title, knew it was in the travel genre, and on seeing the cover pop up in my search results, recalled the premise and said yes to the figurative dress. My parents bought it for me for my birthday, and I finished it over the span of two workday commutes and those same two evenings on the couch. I devoured it like a slice (okay, two) of cake. Her constant talk of cake kept me hungry and wanting more about her sweets adventures. (Dear Geraldine: Sequel?!)
All Over the Place is a series of travel essays that follow a loose chronology of Geraldine DeRuiter’s life, set mostly from the time she loses her job in 2009 until almost present day. Each essay delves into some situation she has found herself in while traveling, and she does this really beautiful thing where place is important to the story, and we really are taken all over–from the ecoconscious hotels of New York City to the end of a hike in Italy she wasn’t prepared to take–but it is not the focus of the stories.
More so, it is her self-introspection that carries us through the pages and the places.
It is that we see how not to travel and how she reacts to experiences; how she loves and learns to love; how she deals with personal and health concerns that we can better understand her, the location, and the link between the two.
DeRuiter’s hook is in her wit and honesty. From the second page, I was bursting out laughing. I was that person on the T who occasionally disturbed the morning commute’s silence with a chuckle or full on HA! The stories naturally come to life because she is genuinely her; she is the friend I want to sit with over coffee and share any and all travel experiences with. I can’t express enough just how funny she is, and through that, relatable. While in tears over certain passages, it shed light on my own character and similar thoughts I’ve had or would have in the same situation. It’s pure gold.
I appreciate her bluntness, too.
Travel is not always glorious or fun.
At times, it can be miserable, but because it’s such a gift and a luxury to be able to explore the world, explaining the tougher times almost feels like stepping on toes. But DeRuiter’s narrative is furthered by this sort of honesty: she is the first one to tell us she is in no way prepared to give people seasoned travel advice, unabashed in sharing her fears, and quickly divulging details about nasty flight attendants and her tendencies to lose her cool. There’s a no holds barred attitude to her book that is liberating and refreshing to read. I honestly believe it can transform the ways in which writers start to share their own experiences.
I think my favorite essay was the final one, where she and her husband visit a group of her relatives in Italy. It is the penultimate story, the one that tied it all together for me. Surrounded by eccentric family members, watching her husband’s slight horror at the number of dishes that continued to be served at dinner, leaving that night arm in arm and enjoying their solitude in this gorgeous Italian town, it wrapped everything up to this point mostly neatly. It didn’t need a finished or redemptive conclusion, because, as DeRuiter reminds us, there is no perfect way of accomplishing anything. In her case, a lot of occurrences are far from ideal, but the ability to share and laugh and have tangible memories to look back on is the better deal.
I can’t recommend All Over the Place enough. Do yourself a favor and have a good laugh. Finish up with a great big smile.
So, Geraldine DeRuiter: thank you for giving me permission to not be an expert. Thank you for challenging the idea that knowing is best, that stories have to come with some major lesson or be something that they aren’t. Thank you for the reminder that being yourself, and bringing those most human bits of yourself out, in your writing is important and grounding and will find an audience. And thank you for finally helping me achieve a 2-pack. Or, at least, getting me on the road there.