After sharing my first Reads on the Road recommendations earlier this year, I’m back with the another installment featuring inspiring and interesting travel-related books I’ve discovered in the last six months. And I’ve certainly put in plenty of research. One benefit of the long train and plane journeys I’ve done this spring and summer is having lots of time to read. Somehow I always feel I should be doing something ‘useful’ when I’m at home, but stick me in a seat for a six-hour journey and I’ll happily work my way through book after book. But which did I enjoy the most? This edition includes a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with everything from memoirs to short stories, spanning the globe from the USA to South East Asia. And do please share some of your recent favourites too so I can add them to my reading list.
I love Bill Bryson’s writing, and although he doesn’t do many travel books these days, his most recent one brings history and travel together. One Summer: America 1927 tells the story of the USA over a six-month period in 1927. You wouldn’t think much could happen in such a short amount of time, but this summer packed in some major moments in American history. Charles Lindbergh made the first flight across the Atlantic, The Jazz Singer became the first talking picture, television was invented and Babe Ruth hit a record-breaking 60 home runs. All set against a 1920s background of Prohibition and Al Capone. Bryson’s incredibly enthusiastic as always, mixing up facts and research with the personal details that bring the different stories to life – he even kept me interested during the baseball history section which is quite a feat!
Another non-fiction book that had me fascinated is On The Map by Simon Garfield. My geography student background and travel obsession mean I’m a bit of a map fanatic, so this was perfect for me. It tells the story of the world through its maps, all the way from early sketches by philosophers right up to Google Maps. Sound a bit too academic? Not at all – each map has a story to go with it. You have the mountains and islands that appeared on atlases for years after explorers who didn’t manage to find anything decided to make them up. Or Phyllis Pearsall, who created the London A to Z and catalogued the whole city on index cards, but missed Trafalgar Square out of the first draft because her box of T cards blew out of the window. The book’s tales of mythical beasts and other worlds even inspired my recent trip to the Mappa Mundi.
Back in the world of fiction, I’ve discovered some good books from publishers Summersdale, who have a great selection of travel stories (and I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but theirs are gorgeous). First up was Fragrant Heart by Miranda Emmerson, described as ‘A Tale of Love, Life and Food in South-East Asia’. It follows Miranda and her partner as they travel across China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, and weaves in recipes and details about the region’s food along with their travel stories – good and bad. It’s guaranteed to make you crave Asian food by the time you get to the end. It brought back great memories of my travels around that part of the world, but also looks at the pull between home and travel, and how to balance settling down when you have a need for adventure.
The Ribbons are for Fearlessness by Catrina Davies is another Summersdale title, dealing with a different kind of life-changing event – the loss of a friend. Catrina and her friend Andrew talked about travelling from Cornwall to Portugal via northern Norway in a yellow camper van. But when he’s killed, she deals with her grief by heading off alone, despite having no money and no plan. She survives by busking with her cello and with the help of the people she meets along the way. The book follows her journey, both the 15,000km travelled across Europe and her personal journey from rock bottom to new confidence. There’s a great quote that “fearlessness has got nothing to do with being unafraid. It’s about doing things anyway, getting on with it, living, whether you’re afraid or not” which applies to so many things in travel and in life.
My next recommendation is a bit of a departure from my usual reading style. Shy Feet is a collection of short stories inspired by travel, written by travel blogger Frances Thompson. I’ve never read many short stories – I read fast so tend to go for the thickest book I can find, so thought I would just devour them in minutes. But the stories kept me thinking about the characters long after finishing the last page. Inspired by her travels around the world, Frankie takes you from the Red Centre of Australia to Gatwick Airport, but the locations are really just the background as the heart of the stories is in the characters. Despite their length the 12 stories deal with big themes like love, death and motherhood. So consider me a short story convert – and luckily Frankie has just published a new series of stories inspired by London called London Eyes.
I have to admit buying my last book partly because of its name. With almost everyone I know having babies in the last few years, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding would make a good subtitle for my blog. But in this case its a memoir by US sitcom writer Kristin Newman. While all her friends got married and had kids, she used the gaps between her job’s intense writing seasons to see the world – from Argentina to Israel – and in the spirit of “doing the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it” she dated a few sexy locals along the way. Probably not one for the prudish, I loved the how she described becoming ‘Kristin-Adjacent’ while she was travelling – that more chilled out (and in her case a bit sluttier) version of your normal home persona. It almost made me miss my crazy single girl travel days!
So those are my favourite recent travel reads, but what are yours?
Disclaimer: I’m an Amazon affiliate so if you buy anything using the links above I’ll get a small commission to help with my heavy reading habit, thanks!