Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Great Road Reads

Saint Augustine once said:
The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.
While I am determined to read the whole book--cover to cover--that might take more time than I actually have. I know there are destinations on my list that I will make it to, such as India, Japan, China, Peru, and Morocco, but for those other locations around the world that may be too exotic, small or remote, I'll have to rely on other means in order to discover them. Obviously, I could just pick up a guide book from Lonely Planet or Frommer's or Let's Go, but all that would give me are the facts about restaurants, hotels, attractions and transportation. I want something with a little more substance, a more in depth investigation of a place, it's culture, history, people. It's these kinds of characteristics that a traveler learns when actually visiting a location, and if I can't experience it myself, I'd like to read something that can paint a pretty accurate picture.

I have scoured the internet, searching for some of the best travel books around, and I believe I've found a pretty good selection. However, these books will not suite everyone's literary palate, but hopefully they will provide a good foundation when looking for your next great road read.

For the History Buffs

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe is an accurate recount of the famous Portuguese explorer who voyaged to find a route to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Author Laurence Bergreen does an exceptional job at describing the landscapes and characters, as well as the lifestyle and customs of the ancient tribes Magellan encounters on his three-year journey. The book even includes maps that show the route taken by Magellan's fleet. This story is great for anyone who appreciates both maritime history and epic adventures of travelers past.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon is another book that ventures back in time to uncover the mysteries of British explorer, Percy Fawcett, and his journey deep into the Amazon to find the Lost City of Z. Writer David Grann attempts to find out what happened to Fawcett and his companions. This brilliant non-fiction book takes us back to the lost days of exploration, and reveals more about the unknown reaches of the Amazon than ever before. It has been named to numerous must-read and notable book lists, and Barnes and Noble even named it the "single best nonfiction book of 2009."

For the Unenlightened

When I say unenlightened, I mean it in the best sense. These books are for those like me, travelers who are curious about places they've never been but hope to one day explore. Travels in Siberia is a wonderful travelogue about post-Soviet Russia, and the author's personal beliefs on the wonders of this country. Ian Frazier becomes fascinated with the sprawling stretch of Siberia, which spans eight time zones from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Through his many trips to the area, Frazier is able to peel away Russia's stoney exterior and reveal something humorous and touching. Perhaps after reading this book, we'll all want to travel to Siberia.

The Places in Between tells the story of Rory Stewart's trek across Afghanistan. The book is full of anecdotes about the cities he visited, the people he encountered, the food he consumed and the stories he heard. Through Stewart's surprising and, at many times, funny encounters, he shows how tradition, beliefs and loyalty shine even in troubled times.

For The Bilingual Traveler

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, The World's Most Enchanting Language follows the long journey of Diane Hales as she attempts to immerse herself completely in Italian culture by learning to speak the language fluently. This story not only takes readers through Hales's personal voyage, but also through the history, art, music, food and lifestyle of the Italians. (Even though I've been to Italy, I would still read this book just because I love the country so much.)

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language is another enlightening story about a woman, Deborah Fallows, and her quest to learn Mandarin. Living in Shanghai and Beijing was more of a struggle than she imagined, but as she slowly picked up the language, she discovered more about the heritage, culture and habits of the people. Picking up certain phrases and words created a window into relationships, humor and love. This book certainly opens up the world of China and its people.

For those in Transition

I realize that amidst the endless places to see in the world, an airport doesn't exactly qualify as a travel destination. But you just might reconsider that idea after reading A Week at the Airport, by Alain de Botton. This funny and insightful writer accurately captures the essence of a place that many of us are too busy to actually see. He is the author of The Art of Travel--a truly wonderful book that you should certainly read if you haven't already.

If You Just Don't Know

If you have a passion for a number of different destinations or book genres, then check out Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl. She recommends books for over 120 destinations around the world, with each place corresponding to a particular book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. So whether you're planning to physically jetset somewhere, or mentally travel there from your couch, this book provides numerous different options to get you moving.

So the next time you venture out on a trip somewhere, or decide to curl up under a blanket, check out one of these amazing travel books, and get lost in the pages.


  1. I think I like the way you right. Very elegant.

  2. As what Avery said, your writing is awesome! Keep going strong on it!