While I’ve got plenty of travel plans, for the next 12 year, the start of the new year sees me staying fairly close to home for the first couple of months. But although I won’t be going far geographically, that doesn’t mean I won’t be travelling in my mind, thanks to my reading obsession. I’ve always been a fast reader – checking my Kindle shows I got through 63 books over the last year, and that’s just the electronic ones. And although I’ll read all sorts of things, there are always a few travel-related choices in there, whether it’s a novel set in a place I’ve visited, a Lonely Planet guide to my next destination, or the story of an epic journey. So I thought I’d start an occasional new series where I share some of my favourite recent travel reads – and do let me know some of yours too so I can add them to my reading list.
There are two types of travel book I’m drawn to – ones about destinations I loved or want to visit, and those about crazy true-life adventures that I have no intention of ever doing myself. Sitting well and truly in the second camp is Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. After her mother died and her marriage broke down, Cheryl took on a 1100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert to Washington State. She’d never done a long-distance hike before and did it solo. The book tells how she faces her demons and pieces her life back together, all while tackling snowstorms, bears, lost toenails and a ‘Monster’ backpack. It’s one of those books that makes you want to set out on a journey of self-discovery yourself, though maybe a less energetic one for me.
Another extreme journey which I won’t be adding to my bucket list anytime soon but loved reading about was Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. Despite being a fellow seasick-prone worrier with a phobia of deep water, Torre (who’s also a travel blogger at Fearful Adventurer) abandons her city life to sail across the Pacific from America to Australia in a tiny two-person sailing boat. It’s a love story as well as an adventure, as the reason she does it is her sailing-obsessed Argentinian boyfriend. The book takes you to some beautiful places (I’m still dreaming about Pacific Island beaches) and manages to be a funny and entertaining read while dealing with big themes like facing your fears and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone when you’ve found something precious you can’t bear to lose.
Over the last year I’ve been taking part in the Travel Book Club on Twitter, where each month a group of us read a travel-related book and then discuss it on Twitter (see #travelbookclub for more details). Love with a Chance of Drowning was one our choices for last year, as well as another recent favourite – The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi. Set in India, the book is a cross-cultural love story between Indian Babo and Welsh Siân. It shows how both characters adapt to the alien environments of each other’s countries, and make a life for themselves as a couple. After reading a few books that showed the harder, brutal side of Indian life (like Shantaram and The White Tiger), it was nice to see a more positive view.
A bit closer to home, a few years ago I did the Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Edinburgh and have been wanting to do the UK’s other sleeper service – between London and Cornwall – ever since. So when I heard about a mystery novel set on the train it was a must-read. The Sleeper by Emily Barr tells the story of two commuters on the train who strike up a relationship, despite both being married. But before they get their happy ending, one night’s journey ends with one of them dead and the other missing. It’s an interesting premise and will keep you guessing as to what happened. As well as being set in Falmouth in Cornwall there’s also a bonus destination with a section set in Thailand too.
Straddling the line between fact and fiction is New York by Edward Rutherfurd. One of a series on different cities around the world, he writes epic 1000-word-plus novels (good value for the fast reader!) which mix up actual historical events with the story of different generations of a fictional family. His New York book is my favourite (though I am looking forward to reading the latest one on Paris) and takes you through almost 400 years of the city’s history, from the early Dutch settlers up to 9/11. If you’ve been to New York you’ll recognise a lot of the locations and it’s fascinating to find out how places got their names and why things are where they are, and I got a lot of ideas of things to see on my next visit there.
Another book full of useful city details is Walk the Lines by Mark Mason – definitely one of those ‘I never knew that’ books where you keep quoting facts to anyone who happens to be nearby. Author and Londoner Mark Mason sets out to walk the route of each of London’s Tube lines overground and each chapter follows a different line. Despite having lived in London for ten years I learnt more reading this than I ever did living there, recognising a lot of the places I knew and getting to know the parts I didn’t. I loved his idea that anyone who has ever lived in London (or even just visited) can trace their own ‘Tube line’ through memorable places they lived, worked, visited or even just had a great night out in.
So those are my recent favourite 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 at no extra cost to you, to help with my heavy reading habit – thanks.