Twelve years ago in 2006, as I tried to navigate through the chaos of packing and moving to Kazakhstan, I found myself faced with the tough task of deciding which books to take. While it may seem silly in today’s era of ubiquitous Wi-Fi, smartphones and e-readers, having English-language reading material was a very real concern. Recently reflecting on that time helped me create a short list of favorites. If I were stranded on a desert island, these are the travel-related books I would want:
5. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux – Because I love train travel, I have read many of this prolific writer’s travelogues. However, this story of his 1973 original overland long-distance loop from London to Japan and back is my favorite. Full of interesting places like Iran, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, it also features unforgettable characters like Duffill, Molesworth and Mr. Bernard. We even use his made-up verb duffill (to be left stranded on a train platform) in our family lexicon!
4. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne – All my life I had heard of Phileas Fogg’s incredible journey, but it was not until a few years ago that I actually read his story. This fast-moving eastbound race against time set in the Victorian period is full of great characters, unusual twists and a wonderful ending. It is also fun to imagine traveling in that era as compared to today’s modern modes.
3. Following the Equator by Mark Twain – A nice contrast to Jules Verne’s 80 Days in which the author transits the globe at a more leisurely pace in the opposite direction, yet in roughly the same historical era. Yes, it is quite a lengthy tome, but the plethora of sidebar stories is the primary reason I selected it. The real charm of the book lies not in the places visited, but in these seemingly random humorous anecdotes, as told by different characters Twain meets along the way. The story about the visiting professor from New Zealand dropping in at Yale is a personal favorite.
2. The Acts of the Apostles by St. Luke – This travel-oriented book from the New Testament reads like a novel and features everything from shipwrecks to snakebites. Set in the first century Roman Empire, much of it chronicles the Apostle Paul’s four different overland and sea journeys throughout the eastern Mediterranean to Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Malta and Italy. Part of the enjoyment for me is having visited many of these places while living in Turkey.
1. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – Like Theroux, Bryson has written quite a few travel books, but this one about his actual Australian adventures gets my vote as his best. When I lived in Kazakhstan and dealt with five months of winter, re-reading this book on forty-below zero nights was one of my coping strategies. Bryson’s self-deprecating humor is beyond hilarious at times, and his description of listening to a cricket match on the radio is simply sidesplitting.
That’s definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don’t think I’ve seen offside medium slow fast pace bowling to match it since Baden-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948. – Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country