Thursday, June 23, 2011

5 Best Books About Travel

Five Best Books...on any given subject, is a meme I am very fond of. Hosted weekly by Cassandra at INDIE READER HOUSTON, this week the subject is: Five Best Books About Travel. From what I understand, in Cassie's view, 'travel' has a broad definition as you will see when you check out her picks for the week.

My own particular favorite books about travel are all a little more down to earth except perhaps one or maybe two.


1) Not so much about the actual fact of travelling but certainly about the art of travelling and finding yourself establishing a new kind of life for half a year, every year. UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes is the first book I can remember reading about someone moving to another country - in this case, the Tuscan countryside of Italy. Though now there seem to be tons of books of this sort, for me, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN was the first and still, the best. I am very fond of Mayes quiet and poetic sense, her lyrical observations about what has to be one of the most gorgeous places on earth and also, of course, her thoughts on the people she meets there.

Not so crazy about the movie which, outside the photography, (And how difficult, really, is it to photograph Tuscany so that it appears beautiful?) has little to recommend it.  The film-makers took Frances Mayes original and very affecting story and changed it around to make it - what? More appealing to a younger audience? I say: read the book. Try if you can to find a copy without the movie tie-in.  I would also recommend BELLA TUSCANY by Frances Mayes, as a wonderful follow-up.

2) A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE An Unexpected Romance by Marlena de Blasi.
At a point in her life and at an age, in which she was fully and fairly expected by children and family to be 'settled' into a more 'routine' sort of life, Marlena, a divorced chef from St. Louis, suddenly finds herself the unexpected and intense object of 'love at first sight.' In this case, 'sight' being a glimpse across the crowded Piazza San Marco. Fernando, having once seen Marlena, is thoroughly smitten and having once devised to meet her, falls even more under her spell. A pragmatic Italian with yet an intense streak of romance flowing through his veins, Fernando soon convinces Marlena (who also has a wild streak of romanticism flowing through her veins) to sell her home in America and come to Italy to live with him. They are married and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is the first of several books in which Marlena de Blasi extols the pleasures of the Italian countryside, the beautiful heart and soul of the Italian people and last, but certainly not least, the glories of Italian food.

3) THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR By Train Through Asia by Paul Theroux
The travel book to define all travel books, I think. I read this classic by famed novelist and non-fiction author Paul Theroux, many years ago and truth to tell, I should probably line it up to read again - my memory being what it is. But what's not to like about a book that is really a four month long romantic,
colorful, quirky, eye-opening, eccentric and entertaining train ride through an exotic array of countries.

According to Wikipedia:
The book '...recounts Theroux's journey...through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian Sub-Continent and Southeast Asia before finally returning via the Trans-Siberian Railway."  I mean, really. How else, where else, could you have such an exuberant travel adventure without actually leaving your home?

There is a sequel of sorts done up recently by Theroux in which he goes back over the same trail and discovers what has changed over the course of the trip to the 'same' countries. It is called, GHOST TRAIN TO THE EASTERN STAR and it is on my TBR list as we speak.

4) Wikipedia says that Jasper Fforde's style of writing is called Postmodern Literature - if that means that Fforde has invented a brave new world based on altered images and alternate histories of both 'real' and non-real events then I say: okay, sure - postmodern it is.

To travel to Greater Swindon, the 'place' in England from which most events having to do with Thursday Next, Literary Detective, spring forward, is to undergo a transformation of everything you know and hold near and dear. Ha! You can begin with THE EYRE AFFAIR or really,  LOST IN A GOOD BOOK or even THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS. Doesn't matter, you will be mostly lost if you try to make any rational sense of it all. So there's really no point in trying. Knowing that going in, you can easily jump back and forth without much fuss.

The journey is the thing. The journey alongside Thursday Next (the heroine) into and out of books in a universe which is the same as ours, but not - where you get to mingle with fictional characters from classic literature, occasionally do a bit of time-travel and duke it out with the most fearsome and ferocious killer imaginable, the Minotaur from ancient legend, who shows up now and then to wreak havoc. But be forewarned, if you do not like British wit, literary puns, similes and metaphors run amok - you will not be welcome.

Travel to Swindon and its environs at your own risk.

5) ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll.
Yeah, it's a travel book. Really. Think about it. You fall down a rabbit hole and you find yourself a stranger in a strange land forced to walk near and far, from pillar to post, trying to find your way back home. What are you doing in Wonderland but travelling? Oh, and having adventures of course. But that's the best part of travelling.

Enough said.


There are a few other 'travel' books I've been meaning to read (or read so long ago I might just as well not have read them at all) over the years and though one has finally made it into my home (the book by Beryl Markham) it remains unread due to the fact that try as I might I can't really read everything at the same time. If you can figure out how to do this, please, will you let me know? Thanks.

WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham
A book about adventures in Africa, travelling by plane piloted by Markham herself, in the early part of the 20th century when planes were still a novelty and only the very intrepid dared take to the air in the rickety things. Markham was one of the most intrepid.

I've been trying on and off, to find a copy of this book for awhile now. I leave it up to luck. I know I'll come across it at some point. Recommended very highly by Nancy Pearl. She recommends all of Newby's work. And as you all know, Nancy Pearl is my reading guru.

Another book - a novel - I've been meaning to hunt down. This one features the famous opening sentence: " Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass." Really, there's very little more to be added. I want to read this book.

Two books which I read long ago (in high school) and remember very little about except that at one time - influenced by same - I had the notion to travel to Africa on a picture safari - never did manage it though. But everyone should read these books who is at all interested in the world outside their front doors: THE WHITE NILE and THE BLUE NILE, both by journalist Alan Moorehead, both about the search for and discovery of the source of the Nile river - back when great parts of the world were still hidden from western eyes and exploration was the grandest of dangerous adventures.

Oh, and if you want to have fun playing archaeologist in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century, I really, REALLY recommend the Amelia Peabody books by Egyptologist and author, Elizabeth Peters. Adventures told in the high romantic style of H. Rider Haggard. Begin with CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK and take it from there.

Also, don't forget to take a look at Nancy Pearl's latest in the Book Lust series, coincidentally having much to do with today's subject:


  1. Really fascinating post, many adventures just waiting within those pages!

  2. Agree totally, completely, entirely with Joanne's comment. Fforde seems out of this world. How come I've never heard of him? Just shows how little I've read and how much remains to be discovered.

    And I am also going to start looking for the Hindu Kush book.

  3. Joanne: Thanks, so glad you enjoyed it. I love these meme things. They really are fun to write.

    You know, in a way, any book with a well created, well written setting is, in fact, a sort of travel book. :)

  4. neer: Jasper Fforde is an acquired taste and fortunately for me, I acquired it from the very beginning. Ha.

    If you find the Hindu Kush book, let me know where. :)

  5. Great travel book ideas. I will try some of these.

    I didn't think much of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun; it was the "b" word -- boring. So I concur, but the book looks delightful.

    And Paul Theroux's books look quite inviting.

    May have to add some nonfiction travel books to my summer list, although really many works of fiction set in interesting locations -- Camilleri's in Sicily, Leon's in Venice, Hyland's in Australia, Sigurdadottir's in Iceland, Louise Penny's, R.J. Harlick's, Vicky Delany's books in Canada, so many in England, France and other countries do give such a strong sense of place that I'm virtually traveling.

    And virtual travel is my kind of travel, no long lines, no expenses, no hassles with passports, visas or tickets.

    So I'll add some of these books to my TBR list. And by the way, some nice covers.

    Have you gone to Venice virtually yet in Leon's books?

  6. Oh sure, Kathy, fiction is a great way to travel.

    But I like non-fiction too. The Paul Theroux book is a 'must' read as far as I'm concerned.

    I haven't begun reading the Donna Leon books yet. I'm finished up a couple of the other books (home from the library) first - will be reviewing them in a couple of days.

    And STAGESTRUCK by Peter Lovesey came in and I practically have to drop everything to read that since someone is waiting for it.

    Not to worry. It will all get done. :)

  7. I will look at the Theroux book, and will see if my library has it.

    I know what you mean about Peter Lovesey. I have that with Donna Leon and Fred Vargas (a woman medieval archaelogist) who writes about a semi-dysfunctional, rempled, yet brilliant police detective in France. Her plots are creative and very quirky, but there are also reasonable explanations down the road.

  8. I will, of course, report on STAGESTRUCK, the latest Lovesey - at some point. It's a wonder to me that more people don't know about Lovesey's wonderful police procedural series. They're set in Bath, and we all know what a great town that is. :)

    I hear there's talk of a tv series, ala Morse. We'll see if it happens.

  9. I loved both "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "1,000 Days in Venice," and yes, I agree that "Alice in Wonderland" takes us on a journey. When I think about it most books take us on a journey of some sort, that is what is so alluring about them!

  10. Have read two out of the list! which is very good for me! I like our recommendations very much. right now reading one on Nepal. Its a lonely planet book but so intriguing.

  11. You're right on the money with the travel books. I've read many them and loved them. Alice is one of the only books I read over and over, truly enchanting and hilarious.

    I'm with those of you who believe that armchair travel is the best kind of travel these days. My husband and I used to travel fairly often and I'm glad we did. But the thought of early arrival at airports, searches, cramped planes with little refreshment - no thank you!

    Book Lust to Go - did you really have to do that to me?! I've read Book Lust but hadn't heard of this one. At this rate, I'll have to take a speed reading course or live to be 150!

    Glad to see a fellow Fred Vargas fan. I just ordered her latest and will pass it on to a friend in Massachusetts I introduced to Vargas and who can't get enough of her.

  12. Pat: The term 'travel book' is kind of a misnomer since - as you say - every book really takes us on a journey, even if it's only inside a character's (author's) brain.

    Pat have you read any other of Marlena de Blasi's books? I've read a couple. She is really a terrific writer. In my view, she deserves to be as well known as Frances Mayes.

    I wish someone would make a movie of her first book. :)

  13. Mystica: Thanks. Isn't it fun to read about places that seem so magical?

  14. Joan: I am such a fan of Nancy Pearl's books. BOOK LUST TO GO is the only one I don't have, but I plan on adding it to my bookshelves for sure.

    Oh, armchair travel is the way to go these days. Although I do wish there were a way to travel without all the awful trials and tribulations which appear to have become standard.

    Wait, there is: books!

    Having said that:

    I've never been to Paris or Venice and those are two places I'd love to visit in reality. (Soon as I win the lottery and I can travel first class. Ha!)

  15. I love your double list! I try to take all of the topics pretty loosely, because I want to encourage as many people to participate as I can. I want people to have fun with it, which you obviously do :)

    Please feel free to make suggestions for topics. I'm always looking.

    It's great having you on board!

  16. Cassandra: Thanks! To tell the truth, if it ain't fun, I ain't doing it. It becomes too much like a chore then. :)

    I have plenty of ideas for topics, believe me. Too many. HA!

    This is turning into a favorite meme.

  17. Well, success at the library! I found the book by Theroux and put it on reserve.

    I think I'll put de Blasi's book on hold, too, since this reader (and many more) cannot get enough of Venice or Italy.

    Yes. I am waiting for Fred Vargas' book, which I'll loan to about 5 people, so it'll get its money's worth (a real benefit of real books, sharing them).

    I caved and bought Christopher Fowler's first book at the library was taking too long, and along with that bought another Camilleri (virtual vacation in Sicily), another Nero Wolfe (The Mother Hunt) and Craig Johnson's first book, Cold Dish, which the library doesn't have.

    I think more book buying is in my future. My budget is going to hell in a handbasket, as is said, as there will be MAJOR (and outrageous) cuts in our library system.

    Thanks for these great travel ideas, my kind of vacationing, phone off, drink iced tea and eat snacks and stay in a/c.

  18. I recommend Fred Vargas books, by the way. France is the setting. Her books are quirky but very creative. She, who is a medieval archaelogist, has a brilliant imagination.

    She goes where no author has gone before, however, for those who like unusual books, but which always have logical solutions for all crimes -- these books are for you.

    I'm curious now about Book Lust, will check out.

    I sent my uncle a Lovesey book, and got interested myself but I haven't tried him yet. Is there a suggestion(s) of the best? (I can't take on another series now, it's not realistic.) I've started 3 at this point.

  19. Kathy: I tried a Vargas book a whiile back but couldn't get into it. Maybe I picked the wrong one. I will definitely try again. I just have to find the right time.

    Not at the moment, that's for sure.

    The best Lovesey book, I think, is THE HOUSE SITTER. I was riveted by that one. Could NOT put it down.

    LOVE the Christopher Fowler books and you're smart to begin at the beginning.

    THE MOTHER HUNT is a terrific Nero Wolfe. I recently reread it. :)

    My library carries pretty much everything EXCEPT a lot of vintage.
    For that I'm going to have to shell out some dough. My book buying budget though is very VERY slim these days.

    I recommend BOOK LUST and MORE BOOK LUST to begin with.

    But be warned, you will find all sorts of recommendations and your TBR list will explode. HA!

    But I will say this: Nancy hss rarely steered me wrong.

  20. Gosh, my TBR list is a mountain now from the blogosophere and bloggers and commenters.

    I wrote down your suggestions on the Wolfe pack, so I knew The Mother Hunt was a recommended one (as I'm not going to read 46 books, but select ones.)

    And I got the Fowler idea from this blog, too. The library has most of the rest if I want to continue.

    I'll check out The House Sitter.

    My TBR list is exploding already. But will my budget follow? With the library cuts coming, no telling what books will entice me, but which I'll have to purchase.

    I'm glad Abe Books has used copies, but it just requires waiting sometimes for books to be available.

  21. For now, luckily, what with my haul from the library plus the books sent to me last week, I've got plenty to read for the forseeable future. But of course, that dosen't stop me adding titles to my ever-expanding list. AND keeping an eye out for new books by my favorite authors...IT'S NEVER ENDING!

  22. It is never ending. And we'll never catch up unless we live until 2111, but then there will be 100 more years of books, totaling 10s of 1000s more tomes to read.

    So I propose not sleeping, no tv, no housework, no errands, just reading -- and a few movies and some cable news to catch up on world events, although right now, I like to put my head in the sand -- or in books and be an ostrich.

  23. Kathy: Hopefully, '...heaven will be a sort of library.' :)

  24. Oh, what a fun list. I love your pics. Like you, this is one of my favorite memes - very thought provoking and full of great book recommendations. :)


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