Maybe I should have read this book before HD and I started upon our year of travel around the world. But I only happened upon it during our last of 12 months on the road and on the runways. Ah, such is life.
I read it like I've read a couple other of Alain de Botton's books - with interest (his topics are crowd pleasers), with ease (the philosophies are diluted with bits of memoir and light analysis), and with the desire to write like non-fiction - a conviction that I too could write a similar kind of book. But of course, I didn't. And this is his accessibility as a writer - he mixes the personal and the worldly, the high and the low, and he makes it look easy.
Some chapters are more interesting than others. For example, I enjoyed peeking into his romantic life, observing how travel and his expectations of a tropical getaway impacted his relationship with a woman. And in theory I liked the idea of bringing a sketch book around and engaging with the environment by capturing it in artistic form - a means of understanding it anew. But I get very impatient with my lack of artistic skill...
It was also quite nice to read his optimistic essay about how familiar places can breed new interest when seen with a childlike wonder. But these ideas (really see things, interact with place, etc.) are nothing new, really. They are quite sensible intuitions about travel, packaged up in witty British-isms and enlivened with some romantic voyeurism into the famous writer's life. In fact, these familiar ideas are like those familiar places - seen again, and wondered about anew - to be enjoyed and to produce the lovely but limited pleasure of being reintroduced to something you've always known.