Book note: Catherine Watson is ‘Home on the Road’

Catherine Watson
By Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva,
TC Daily Planet
February 23, 2008

Apparently we have the Shakers to thank for the clothespin. Also, sheep have the annoying habit of gnawing away at Scotland’s highlands. These are a couple of the tidbits you’ll pick up in Minnesota Book Award nominee Home on the Road, Catherine Watson’s second collection of travel essays.

Don’t worry, Watson—formerly a travel writer for the Star Tribune—doesn’t bore us to death with historical trivia from far-off places. There is a fair amount of that, but Watson seasons her facts with a healthy dose of personal perspective. She seems to be a globetrotter who has to travel because, well, it is in her blood.

Home on the Road by Catherine Watson, published by Itasca Books (2007). $14.95.

If you have traveled as widely as Watson has, you too have witnessed and reflected on pressing geopolitical issues of our time. Watson laments the environmental impact of overfishing off the coast of Tunisia, comments on the “ugly American” stereotype, and explains her indifference to the perpetual orange alert of post-9/11 travel. Through her anecdotes, whether they are about Easter Island or Minneapolis, she reflects thoughtfully on history and current political trends.

Minnesota Book Award nominees in the Daily Planet:
• Jennifer Holder on Catherine Friend’s The Perfect Nest
• Cyrus Wolff on Patrick Jones’s Chasing Tail Lights and Will Weaver’s Defect

Not every essay tackles such weighty issues—some pieces tend more towards the jocular than the preachy. Watson’s description of various shower styles across the globe, among them the “bait and switch shower,” is sure to elicit a chuckle.

Home on the Road includes more than a touch of personal memoir. Watson takes us to Death Valley, where her parents dragged her just to see if it was as hot as its reputation suggests. (“It was,” Watson assures us.) She remembers disastrous family camping trips, which prompt her to ask the eternal travel question: “To plan, or not to plan?” In one essay she takes us to her unlikely hometown, Fort Snelling, and then to Germany, where she spent a year as a high school exchange student. Here Watson explores the intersection of time and space in an unapologetic bout of nostalgia.

A few of the essays could have been left out. For example, an anecdote about a scorpion in a Costa Rican hotel is amusing, but detracts from the overall collection. The real charm of the book lies in the essays that bring us to a closer understanding of what makes Watson “more at home on the road than anywhere else.”

Ultimately, Home on the Road reflects a thoughtful travel career that makes you think, “I wish I had that life!” If you don’t, at least you can read about it.

Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva (peterson.delacueva@gmail.com) is an educator and has taught in various contexts, including junior high social studies and adult basic education. She is transitioning from a career in teaching to freelance writing and is interning at the TC Daily Planet.

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