There’s something magical about travel. It brings us out of our comfort zone and places us inside experiences that challenge us, provoke us and exhilarate us. It heightens our awareness and teaches us amazingly valuable lessons. The same can be said about travel writing. But while the act of traveling can exhaust even the most constitutionally sound, reading books allows you take that journey and learn those lessons from the comfort of your armchair.
I present to you today a list of some of the favorite books as given to me by a few of the travel-minded staff here at AirTreks. This is part one of a mulit-part posting about travel media. Next up: travel music!
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Shantaram – by Gregory David Roberts: A stunning and character rich, pot-boiler of a novel set in Mumbai, India. “A sensational read,” according to Publishers Weekly
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze – by Peter Hessler An “honest, engaging and amusing” non-fictional story about man who spent two years with the Peace Corps in a small town in central China teaching English literature. An interesting portrait of modern China.
Long Way Round, Chasing Shadows Across the World – by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman “Engaging, articulate and entertaining.” A story about two men with notable acting careers who circle the globe on motorcycles. Elaborate, humble and entertaining.
Daughter of Fortune – by Isabel Allende The engrossing story of a orphaned Chilean girl who is raised by English merchants then travels to Gold Rush era California to meet her young lover. Vividly describes 19th century Chile; a rich and hungry read.
Queen of the South – by Arturo Perez Reverte A thrilling page-turner about drug-trafficking in Mexico, Spain and the Mediterranean whose multi-faceted heroine becomes deeply involved in this harrowing business. “Complicated, lively and convincing,” says the Washington Post.
Red Azalea – by Anchee Min A striking memoir about a woman who grows up during the cultural revolution in Mao Tse-tung’s Communist China. Great if you’ve ever visited or will visit Shanghai or anywhere in China.
Snow – by Orhan Pamuk Utterly compelling piece of literature about a journalist on assignment to write about a suicide epidemic of young Muslim girls in a small frontier town in eastern Turkey, only to find himself immersed in a political coup when a debilitating snow storm cuts the town off from the rest of the world. A rich, haunting and deeply moving book driven by the age-old storytelling tradition.
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – by Haruki Murakami An odd and often subtly disturbing novel that bubbles with mysterious and surreal events accepted as routine. A very much original detective story, history lesson and satire all at once. Translated from the original Japanese.
The Sun Also Rises – by Ernest Hemingway A perennial classic about Spanish bullfighting, drinking and love, Hemingway-style. Simply stated: a masterpiece.
Open Veins of Latin America – by Eduardo Galeano “A superbly written, excellently translated, and powerfully persuasive exposé which all students of Latin American and U.S. history must read.” – Choice. Magnificent prose that honestly captures the Latin American perspective without bias. The book Hugo Chavez personally handed to Obama.
1000 Places To See Before You Die – by Patricia Schultz “At last, a book that tells you what’s beautiful, what’s fun and what’s just unforgettable, everywhere on earth.” Newsweek. Well-written and researched. If not all of it, every traveler will find something here to like. For better or worse, a sort of laundry-list of amazing places to visit the world wide.
Three cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time – by Greg Mortenson A lively story about helping the young and disenfranchised in the mountains of northern Pakistan.
The Alchemist – by Paolo Coelho An
allegorical fable about a shepherd boy who dreams of seeing the world
and finding his success. Cutting in its simplicity and perfectly
satisfying, this book will force you to remember that it’s not the
destination but the journey. Takes place in Spain, Morocco and Egypt.
The Sheltering Sky – by Paul Bowles A near-perfect read. The story (once made into a movie starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger) of a young and glamorous post-war American couple voluntarily thrust into the harsh Saharan landscape of Northern Africa. Boldly told with vision and subtle wisdom, this book will push you to your emotional limit and bring you back again, exhausted.
Midnight’s Children – by Salmon Rushdie Winner of the 1980 Booker Prize, about 2 children who were born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the moment when India became a nation and were accidentally swapped at the hospital. Each were brought to the other’s respective homes, a well-to-do Muslim family and destitute Hindu one. Rushdie has a way of at once creating humor and heartbreak while simultaneously making you pine for his uncanny sense of place.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster – by Jon Krakauer A hugely moving account of the events leading up to, through and beyond the disaster on Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996. Well documented, then journalist for Outside Magazine Krakauer conveys the story with pin-point accuracy and intensity, bringing you into the heart of the tragedy and then out again on the other side. A great read.
The Size of the World – by Jeff Greenwald “Ingenious and manic… An intrepid, articulate, and funny traveler—Phileas Fogg meets Woody Allen.” – The Los Angeles Times. The story of a man on a mission: to circle the earth without leaving its surface. Possibly one of the best travelogues ever written.
* photo courtesy of Creative Commons and guldfisken