Travel literature, part 1

I love to read about travel, foreign cultures and geography, and always have. My favourite non-fiction books when I was growing up were accounts of travel to such far away places as South America, India and China.

Here are some of my favourite travel books that are available in English. I’m leaving out the expatriate memoirs, i.e. Peter Mayle and co., and may post on those later. The honourable mentions and TBR will come later.

Antony Bourdain: A cook’s tour. Irreverent and funny warts’n’all account of Bourdain’s journey of discovery around the world in search of good food and extreme eating, with camera crew in tow.

Karen Connelly: Touch the Dragon: a Thai journal. Connelly spent a year in Thailand as an exchange student and the book is about her experiences of seeing Thai culture from the inside.

Edith Durham: High Albania. Durham travelled for her health, and made a special study of the Balkans at the beginning of the 20th century. Part travel memoir, part anthropology, this book clarified to me some of the ancient feuds underlying the hatred the ethnic groups of the Balkans have for each other. Read it online: High Albania

Gerald Durrell: All of his travel books. My favourites are probably The Bafut Beagles, The Whispering Land and The Drunken Forest. (My favourite Durrell book ever is My Family and other Animals, which, as it is about living abroad rather than travelling, falls under the heading of expatriate memoir).

Bill Holm: Coming home crazy: an alphabet of China essays. Holm spent a year teaching English in China. This essay collection describes various aspects of his life in China. The jumping back and forth can be a bit confusing if the book is read as a story and not as an essay collection.

Frank Kusy: Kevin and I in India. I picked this book up second hand in Nepal and found it fascinating. It is in the form of diary entries by the author, about his and his travel companion’s experiences in India. I always recall my own journey when I read it.

Michael Palin:
*Around the World in 80 Days. Palin and camera crew follow in the footsteps of Phineas Fogg around the world, using ground and sea transport only.
*Pole to Pole. Palin and co. travel from the North Pole to the South Pole, through Europe, Africa and S-America, mostly on land and sea.
*Full Circle. This time it’s the Pacific Rim, starting and ending in Alaska.
*Sahara. Palin travels around the Saharan countries.
*Himalaya. And the Himalaya mountains.
Although you know that much of what you see in the TV series is faked to some extent – Palin is, after all, travelling with a camera crew but “pretending” to travel alone, and the journeys are not all unbroken - the journals give glimpses of what he experienced when the cameras were off. The journals make a fascinating read, and a good supplement to the TV series.

Jane Robinson, ed.:Unsuitable for Ladies. An anthology that I highly recommend. It has excerpts from travel literature by women over the ages.

Tim Severin: Crusader. Severin, a professional adventurer, set off with two horses to retrace the route taken by the crusaders from France to Jerusalem. Rich in historical detail, and it’s interesting to read about his relationship with the horses.

Mark Shand:
*Travels on my Elephant. Shand bought himself an elephant, named her Tara, and travelled with her around India.
*Queen of the Elephants. The sequel to Travels on my Elephant. Shand sought out Parbati Barua, the queen in the title, and trained as a mahout under her tutelage and the watchful eyes of a camera crew. The resulting TV series was not only entertaining, but also helped bring to the spotlight the plight of the Asian elephant.

John Steinbeck. Travels with Charley: In search of America. Steinbeck’s classic travel story.

Colin Thubron:
*Among the Russians, driving through the European parts of the Soviet Union.
*Behind the Wall: a journey through China, travelling around China, alone and unable to speak the language.
*The Lost Heart of Asia, travelling through the “-stans” that once were part of the Soviet Union, shortly after its fall.


Stuttfótur said…
Dunno if you know John Gimlette..? I love his book "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig" about his travels through Paraguay, mixed with interesting tidbits about the history of the place. That's one wild country!
Bibliophile said…
I have this book on my BookMooch wishlist. After reading Graham Greene's "Travels with my Aunt" I have always wanted to know more about Paraguay.

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