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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Top 10 Literary Travel Books
Oh, let’s not even begin talking about the airport delays, the cancellations, and the various other frustrations that have marred travel plans this summer. Instead, let’s read about travel! A copout? Who cares? There are so many good travel narratives out there in which to lose oneself-and without fear of cancelled flights. Again we offer a list of the 10 best literary travel books published and reviewed in Booklist over the past year.
Brookes, Tim. “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow”: An American Hitchhiking Odyssey. National Geographic, $26 (0-7922-7683-3).
In 1973, Brookes, then a British student, spent three months hitchhiking across the U.S. In 1998, Brookes, now a writer, teacher, and longtime Vermonter, decided to re-create that experience and hitchhike to the same places again. He’s not interested in reliving the past but in illuminating the present, which he does with great aplomb.
Carter, W. Hodding. A Viking Voyage: In Which an Unlikely Crew of Adventurers Attempts an Epic Journey to the New World. Ballantine, $25 (0-345-42003-9).
Carter’s wanderlust takes the form of retracing the routes of “renowned or notorious” people, including Lewis and Clark, John Wilkes Booth, and, lately, Leif Eriksson. In his reenactment of the latter’s colonizing venture, Carter and company enjoyed something Leif couldn’t: the Canadian coast guard’s aid. The result, however, is an armchair adventurer’s delight.
Cookman, Scott. Iceblink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition. Wiley, $24.95 (0-471-37790-2).
In this absorbing account of the fable 1845 Franklin expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, Cookman incriminates a novel malefactor in the tragedy: botulism. He argues his theory by artfully narrating a possible course of events in the expedition’s demise, based on the one official note and bits of debris (including evidence of cannibalism). Adventure readers will flock to this fine regaling of the enduring mystery surrounding the best-known disaster in Arctic exploration.
Iyer, Pico. The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home. Knopf, $25 (0-679-45433-0).
In his latest book of essays, Iyer sets aside his customary role as the witty and conversant travel guide to far-flung corners of the earth and observes instead the impact of globalization on the human condition. He encountered time and again what he calls “the global soul”: a citizen of the world who simultaneously lives in several cultures and yet feels at home in none.
Lonely Planet Unpacked: Travel Disaster Stories by Tony Wheeler and Other Lonely Planet Authors. Lonely Planet, paper, $12.95 (1-86450-062-X).
Yeah, yeah, your flight was delayed, and the onboard meal, once your plane finally got off, was crummy. Big deal! You want to hear about big-time travel horror stories? Read the wonderfully written essay-anecdotes offered here by 26 writers who contribute to Lonely Planet’s travel guides, and you’ll understand why no one is listening to your lame story.
Moorhouse, Geoffrey. Sydney: The Story of a City. Harcourt, $25 (0-15-10061-6).
Australia’s major city is defined by its harbor, so this acclaimed British travel writer’s book about Sydney appropriately opens with a beautifully written description of that magnificent body of water. His exquisitely presented, full-bodied profile of this unique city, home of the 2000 Olympics, reaches far back into Australian history.
Phillbrick, Nathaniel. The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Viking, $24.95 (0-670-89157-6).
This is quite an accessible narrative of the tragic 1820s whaling voyage whose central disaster was the violent encounter with a sperm whale, which inspired the climactic scene in Melville’s Moby Dick. For more than 150 years, the primary source of information about the Essex was a volume that the first mate prepared with a ghostwriter. A summary by the ship’s cabin boy, prepared some 50 years after the wreck, was found and published in 1980s. Phillbrick draws on both.
Seal, Jeremy. The Snakebit Survivors’ Club: Travels among Serpents. Harcourt, $24.95 (0-15-100535-4).
This offbeat travelogue contains much charm and many surprises. Its ports of call are Appalachia, Kenya, India, and Australia, where snakes hold a high place, if not always high esteem, in the minds of the inhabitants. Seal’s respectful humor in presenting the fixation on snakes carries the reader to an exotica of place and mind that modernity has passed by.
Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend. Random/Vintage, paper, $13 (0-375-70265-2).
Riding a temperamental motorcycle through the semi-surreal landscapes of the cone of South America, Symmes conceived the sparkling idea to retrace the route taken by Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna in 1952, before he became “Che.”
Theroux, Paul. Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000. Houghton, $27 (0-618-03406-4).
Theroux’s latest book is a collection of his marvelous travel pieces written since the mid-1980s. In the early essays, Theroux posits his philosophy about the writer’s life and highlights themes that surface in subsequent essays. Once again, he demonstrates his power to carry readers into different worlds through his agile and incisive prose.
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