How many women would love to have the following quote as a part of their own personal journal, real or imagined? “Six years ago, on a winter’s day not unlike this one, … I decided to jump ship, so to speak, from the life I’d fashioned for myself.”
Without Reservations is not another one of those memoirs of an angry woman marching off to the beat of her own drum. I immediately bonded with Steinbach’s words, “…jump ship, so to speak.” It was the “so to speak” that told me this was a woman of some caution, a writer who chose her words to carry the maximum amount of meaning. Steinbach, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from the Baltimore Sun, was also a single mother of two college graduate sons, a homeowner, a pet owner, and in short, a successful woman with many responsibilities.
Steinbach’s inner voice told her: “After fifteen years of writing stories about other people, you need to get back into the narrative of your own life.” For the next several months, she made her plans to take a European sabbatical: she had a job to secure, a person to find to care for her house and her pets, and time to convince herself that she was “a woman in search of an adventure,” and it was time to “Say yes to life instead of no.”
The author’s journey takes her to a small hotel in Paris, to London, to Oxford, to the rich scenery of Tuscany and then back to the same small hotel in Paris. She keeps track of her travels and the moments that will live beyond the months of her adventure by writing postcards to herself. Along the way, Steinbach meets a wonderful variety of people, ordinary and noteworthy, men and women, single and married, young and old. Among those, she meets herself as solitary traveler, a woman who learns to connect with the strangers she meets and the physical world in which she travels. The writing is moving, honest and often startling in its clarity of thought.
This review is written years after first reading the book. I’m already rereading it, again, finding it is as fresh today as it was in 2003 when spotted on my boss’s Advance Review shelf. I could not sell it fast enough. For the years with that store, I sold almost one or two copies a month. In all that time, not one customer came back to say they did not love this book. My favorite response was from a customer who poked her head in the store doorway on her way to Safeway, raised her copy of the book, caught my eye, and said, “Most important book I’ve ever read.” High praise. Well deserved.