Many people reading this will no doubt already have read Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. But if you haven't, I really recommend it--and if you have, perhaps this will make you think about reading it again.
TraveLit--A blog about travel literature.
Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.
Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways
By Larry McMurtry. Touchstone, 2000, 206 pp.
Combining two passions—for roads and for travel books—Larry McMurtry has created a road narrative that takes him through America, in spurts. The roads in this book are the interstates, “the great roads, the major migration routes that carry Americans long distances quickly,” whose precursors he believes were the great roads of the nineteenth century: the rivers of the Americas.
Beginning in January, Roads takes us on a series of trips, each pegged to a month and to specific highways. “Being alone in a car is to be protected for a time from the pressures of day-to-day life,” he says “It’s like being in one’s own time machine, in which the mind can rove ahead to the future or scan the past.”
As he drives—from Duluth to Oklahoma City (on the 35), or from Baltimore to Burlington, Colorado (the 70, South on Highway 287)—McMurtry’s thoughts rove in many directions. He may reflect on historical events that took place in the area he is driving through, on writers who lived there or wrote about the region, on landscape or the number of quirky museums he passes, on his own life and work, and always on the road itself, with its particular character. These observations flow conversationally and some seem a bit this and that, but many are striking, especially his comments on travel.
McMurtry is not just a traveler: he has an intense interest in the subject of travel. He owns 3000 travel books,
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris
By A. J. Liebling. With an introduction by James Salter. North Point Press, 1986. (Parts originally published earlier in New Yorker.) 167 pp.
“The eater’s apprenticeship, though less arduous, must be as earnest as the cook’s,” writes A. J. Liebling in Between Meals, eight essays that explore his education in the art of eating. This course of study took place of course in France (“It goes without saying that it is essential to be in France.”) beginning in 1926, when, at the age of 22, he spent a year in Paris, technically registered at the Sorbonne but in fact haunting the city’s restaurants, cafes, and bars, acquiring expertise in the subject that would engross him for the rest of his life.
That year, so central to Liebling’s life, is at the heart of these essays, many previously published in the New Yorker, where he was a staff writer.
Westward Ha! or Around the World in Eighty Clichés
By S. J. Perelman. Drawings by Hirschfeld. Simon and Schuster, 1947, 1948, 159 pp.
Travel provides rich material for satire. From the misinformed plans, to the mishaps en route, to the boring photographic record foisted on friends, journeys offer boundless scope for mockery—of oneself (the traveler), of others, of the ways of the world, and of travel itself.
S. J. Perelman takes all of these on in his wild romp Westward Ha!, the story of the world tour he and his friend Hirschfeld— theatrical caricaturist for the New York Times—undertook for Holiday magazine in the 40s. In 9 months, they visited 27 countries, “all the areas celebrated by Kipling, Conrad, and Maugham,” including Shanghai, Hongkong, Thailand—Siam at the time—Malaya, India, Egpyt, Italy, France, and England.
Everywhere, they suffer, and always extremely: Read More
If you love humor in travel books, you might want to have a look at CNN's list of "The 15 Funniest Travel Books Ever Written (in English)." (Just click on the photo for the link.) There are some excellent titles here, perhaps including some that you haven't read.
Of course, I don't entirely agree with their selection--wasn't Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country funnier than his Walk in the Woods? And how could a list like this omit Eric Newby? But as Barnaby Rogerson, chair of the Donlan Travel Book Prize and publisher at Eland, says, "each and every passionate reader will have their own list."
I hope you enjoy some of these books, and I'd love to hear your own choices.