Saturday, November 9, 2013

Armchair Travel: A Well-Grounded Sense of Place

Great travel writing consists of equal parts curiosity, vulnerability and vocabulary. It is not a terrain for know-it-alls or the indecisive. The best of the genre can simply be an elegant natural history essay, a nicely writ sports piece, or a well-turned profile of a bar band and its music. A well-grounded sense of place is the challenge for the writer. We observe, we calculate, we inquire, we look for a link between what we already know and what we're about to learn. The finest travel writing describes what's going on when nobody's looking.
~Tom Miller, "Under the Skin of a Locale: Tucson's Tom Miller Explains What Makes Great Travel Writing"

There's truly an art to writing about travel. The books listed below seek to be more than a guide book, but less than a scholarly treatise about a place; more fleshed out than a journal, more cohesive than a selection of essays (although there are some great travel essays out there). None of the books listed were recent blockbusters, but they all have literary merit. Many are windows, not only to another place, but back in time to another era. All have in common the author's immersion into local cultures. As the author Roxanne Reid says, "A traveller moves among real people in their own milieu and learns from them, soaking up their wisdom and philosophy, their way of being in the world. A tourist simply hops from one tourist highpoint to another, skimming across the surface, cramming in quantity rather than quality, and comes away with his soul and imagination unchanged, untouched by the wonder of a life lived differently." 

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West

The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia by Paul Theroux [eBook]

Nowhere is a Place: Travels in Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

An Area of Darkness by V. S. Naipaul

As They Were by M.F.K. Fisher

The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuciski

Letters From Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849-1850 by Florence Nightingale

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson   

Great Plains by Ian Frazier

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

"The Muses are Heard", from Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote

"Sea and Sardinia", from D.H. Lawrence and Italy by D.H. Lawrence

A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople - From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube by Patrick Leigh Fermor

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakaeur

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with His Son by Peter Carey

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

My 'Dam Life: Three Years in Holland by Sean Condon

Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India by Anita Jain

List compiled with assistance from the article "35 Great Travel Books That Will Take You Around the World Without a Plane Ticket".

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