Like many of you, no doubt, through my college and graduate school years my summers were a mish-mash of activity. Perhaps you, like me, managed always to wedge in some trips to the pool or park, a “family vacation” or maybe a week at summer camp. As a young child, I played outside for hours, then later I had part-time jobs.
One thing that has always been a large part of my summer was reading. Without the “call to duty” of assigned texts, I relished the freedom to read widely and voraciously from the moment that classes finished in the spring until their start the following autumn. This is probably not a surprising revelation from a librarian. My tastes are varied – fiction, non-fiction, you name it – but one genre that has always been dear to my heart are travel narratives.
Travel narratives, as I see it now, have a lot of connections to my work in user experience design. In a travel narrative, a person goes to a place – whether new or familiar – and writes about their thoughts, feelings and activities. Travel narratives give us an opportunity to see something from someone else’s perspective, and in so doing, help us better understand both their and our way of looking. What do we share? How do we differ? Can we learn to look in a new way?
In 2007, Condé Nast Traveler gathered submissions from a “literary all-star jury” and compiled The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time. Who were these “literary all-stars”? Well, to name a few: Monica Ali; Vikram Chandra; Jared Diamond; Peter Mayle; John McPhee; Francine Prose; Paul Theroux; and Gore Vidal.
Naturally I wondered how many were available via IUCAT, our shared statewide library catalog: 82 of 86. I’ve created a public list where you can peruse them, to which I added a few of my own favorites (my selections appear first on the list):
Notes on my additions:
- Come, Tell Me How You Live, by Agatha Christie Mallowan – yes, that Agatha Christie, prolific author of mystery novels. I found it fascinating to learn of another side of her life, accompanying her archaeologist husband to his digs in Syria in the early 20th century.
- Love Among the Butterflies, by Margaret Fountaine – I came across this title (while travelling!) at an English language bookshop in Amsterdam. Margaret Fountaine collected butterflies (and adventures) all over the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sometimes travelling solo and other times with her partner Khalil Neimy. I realize that the only copy the IU system owns is held by Kinsey and doesn’t circulate, but there’s always interlibrary loan …
- Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum – The title really says it all. I will only add that Slocum also built his boat.
- Tracks, by Robyn Davidson – I will confess that I was surprised not to find this title on the Condé Nast Traveler list. Have you ever thought, I’d like to train my own camels and travel overland from the Australian Outback to the coast at Perth? Me either. But you can read about what happened when she did. Bonus title: Accompanying photo essay book From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback
- Staying Put: Making A Home in A Restless World, by Scott Russell Sanders – who says you have to leave home to travel? This collection of essays by IU’s Distinguished Faculty Emeritus (English) meditates on what it means to be “home.” I’m a Bloomington native, so reading this the summer after my high school graduation, and thinking that he was writing in and about my hometown, made it extra meta.
2007 just too old a list for you? You can also find a more recent list of recommended travel books from the UK’s Telegraph, published in March of this year: The 20 Best Travel Books of All Time.
I wish you happy travelling, with or without moving from your couch.