With a new range of Ex Libris stamps celebrating exploration, I thought it would be good to share some of my favourite travel books, with something for all ages.
Imperium– Ryzard Kapuscinski
Ryzard Kapuscinski is my favourite travel writer, possibly my favourite writer full stop. He manages to be both politically insightful and poetic at the same time. I also have an inexplicable fascination with Russia and the Soviet Union and so Imperium, which was written as the Soviet block was crumbling and visits every corner of the vast territory, combines both. A Polish journalist, he provides a different perspective here on the Soviet Union, and in his many other writings, particularly about Africa. I have reread this one a couple of times, and it is more pertinent now in time of Putin than ever, and still exquisite to read as a work of literature.
Around the World in Eighty Days – John Burningham
This book is simply my dream assignment – being commissioned to replicate Philleas Fogg’s famous journey around the world and document it through drawings (any commissioning editors reading, I’ll gladly replicate this!). Any fan of Burningham’s illustrations will delight in this book – images take the lead with brief notes on each destination like a travel diary. Published in 1972 there is a distinct hangover of the Empire feel to it, but it makes it no less charming or interesting and is perfect way for anyone of any age to spend an afternoon globetrotting and becoming absorbed in Burningham’s journey. It’s out of print, but well worth seeking out.
The Songlines– Bruce Chatwin
Bruce Chatwin is another favourite writer and I could have picked any of his travel books. In The Songlines he attempts to grasp the totally alien culture of the Australian Aborigines (touching on other nomadic cultures too). Peppered with literary references from around the world on the nature of travel and the need for it, this probably isn’t a light or easy book, but I found it quite profound.
Going to Extremes– Nick Middleton
Middleton sets out to find the coldest, hottest, driest and wettest inhabited places on earth and meet the people who live there. The results are evocative of landscape and climate and often very very funny. I still chuckle every time I think of his Siberian swimming adventures (and why NOT to wear swimming trunks).
My Granny Went to Market– Stella Blackstone and Christopher Corr
If there is a granny in your life who is always on holiday in some far-flung destination, this will strike a chord. The vibrant illustrations by Christopher Corr set off Stella Blackstone’s counting rhyme to perfection, as we follow Granny around the globe on her shopping expedition. Both my children loved this book as toddlers and it sparks real interest in real places (and the souvenirs you can get there – very important for any child!).
This is the World– M. Sasek
A compendium of his famous series of books for children. Despite being out of date (many destinations dating back to the 1950s – although corrections have been added) my 6 year old daughter and my husband are equally entranced by this huge book and it’s mid-century illustrations. A proper coffee table tome, highly recommended and would make a fantastic gift.
Lots– Marc Martin
A new oversize gift book about world destinations seems to pop up for children every week. Marc Martin’s Lots rises to the top of the pile for it’s stunning illustrations, quirky facts and non-Eurocentric selection of destinations. Closer to the recollections of a real traveller than a tourism leaflet, it's a treat.
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica– Sara Wheeler
Antarctica is another of my obsessions – and I’m not sure if this book created or compounded my fascination. Wheeler (on another dream assignment) spends 7 months on the frozen continent recounting the history of its exploration, her awe of the vast landscape, alongside the village-like community of scientists who live there. Beautiful writing based on an intense experience which leaves you feeling like you’ve been there and met the people - travel writing at its best.