Top 10 travel books you can read while staying at home
Getting bored while staying at home during the nationwide lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak? Here is a list of 10 fascinating travel books that you can read to quench your thirst for traveling during the lockdown.
The global pandemic due to the Novel Coronavirus has already killed lakhs of people worldwide, and millions more have been indirectly affected. Particularly, daily wage earners have been seriously affected because of the ongoing lockdowns that have been implemented in several countries to 'flatten the curve' or slow down the rate of the deadly pandemic. The lockdown in India, for example, has affected almost all of us in some way or other – while for some it has been a serious question of how to earn the daily bread in this time of crisis, several others are experiences issues related to mental health. Domestic violence has gone up, too, and crime rates are expected to be high in the post-lockdown months. However, there is one group of people who may not apparently appear to be seriously affected, although they would probably disagree. And they are the gallivanters.
Yes, the 'gallivanter' is the grandiloquent synonym of a travel enthusiast – a person who cannot simply imagine spending months and years without traveling to new places, seeing new things, and meeting new people. Personally, I count myself as one. If you are that kind of a person with serious wanderlust, you must be having a tough time. Due to the spread of the pandemic, not only current and immediate travel plans have been canceled, but the future looks dim as well. Unless and until there is a vaccine and the rampant malady is considerably controlled worldwide, traveling is going to be a risky affair indeed. And that will take at least a year, I believe, if not more. In other words, not only you cannot travel to places this year, but it is advisable not to make any plans for the next year as well, or until things improve.
Well, to help you fight your boredom in the lockdown days, here is a list of 10 fascinating travel books that everyone should read. Of course, there are several excellent travelogues and fictions related to travel, and it is really a difficult job to make a list of top ten travel books of all time. Instead, I would like to call this my personal reading list of best travel books, which I would like to share with you all to spend your lockdown days better. This list is not organized in any order of merit; it is just a random list of the top ten travel books I like most. Just a warning: reading these wonderful travel writings can actually backfire and can give you some serious wanderlust!
1. Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens When the author's name is Charles Dickens, you got to feel that the book will be good. We all know that Charles Dickens was the greatest novelist of the Victorian period, but few have discovered him as a travel writer. In the year 1844, Dickens took a break from writing novels and toured France and Italy extensively with his family. The trip included some of the most celebrated tourist spots in Continental Europe, including Genoa, Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice. The book has been described by Kate Flint as a "chaotic magic-lantern show"; and it really matches that description, because of its vivid and colorful presentation of the street life in Italy, and the splendor of costumes and ebullience of the Carnival in Rome. The book also brings out the great divide of wealth in nineteenth-century Italy, juxtaposing grandiose mansions and villas against the ramshackle shanties of the urban destitute.
2. On the Road by Jack Kerouac A literary iconoclast and a pioneer of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac is remembered for many of his writings, and his 1957 novel On the Road is definitely one of them. This work of fiction, which is considered a landmark text of the Beat Generation, is based upon a road trip Kerouac and his friends undertook across the United States. Several leading figures of the Beat Generation have been represented as fictional characters in the book including the author himself (as the narrator Sal Paradise), as well as William Burroughs (as Old Bull Lee), Neal Cassady (as Dean Moriarty), and Allen Ginsberg (as Carlo Marx). The Time magazine counted it as one of the top 100 novels written between 1923 and 2005.
3. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton This is neither a travelogue nor a conventional novel, but an interesting and thought-provoking collection of nine essays providing deep insights into the philosophy of travel. Alain de Botton does not tell us where to travel, like travel blogs and websites; instead, he focuses on how and why to travel. His prose is compelling, and his philosophy profound, which engross the reader all the way. It begins with the author landing on Barbados to escape a freezing London in winter, and realizing that traveling, in reality, is far from what is portrayed in travel magazines and brochures. While the sunlit sea-beaches lined with shady palm trees looked just perfect on paper, in reality, he found the squalor and the heat too much to deal with. The author compared his trip to Barbados to Jean des Esseintes' trip to London in Joris-Karl Huysman's 1884 novel, À Rebours. In the other eight essays, the author alludes to Charles Baudelaire, Edward Hopper, Gustave Flaubert, Alexander von Humboldt, William Wordsworth, Edmund Burke, and Vincent van Gogh, offering a complete phantasmagoria of vivid experiences. Published in 2002, this book is definitely worth a read.
4. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck Travels with Charley: In Search of America was published in 1962, months before John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is based on actual road trip Steinbeck undertook in 1960 across the United States with his dog Charley in a camper called Rocinante, named after the horse of Don Quixote from Miguel Cervantes's classic novel. Starting from Long Island in New York, Steinbeck toured over ten thousand miles, roughly following the borders of America, including Maine, the Pacific Northwest, California, Texas, and the Deep South, before returning to New York. Steinbeck had severe heart diseases, and knowing that he would die any day, he wanted to see his country one last time, hence the trip. Remember the 2007 film by Rob Reiner called The Bucket List where two terminally ill old men decide to tour the world and fulfill their wishes? However, several critics classify the book as a work of fiction and not a pure travelogue, emphasizing the fact that Steinbeck was basically a novelist and he tampered with the truth to achieve aesthetic excellence.
5. The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain Mark Twain spent a surprising amount of time in his life traveling, and many of his statements and observations regarding travel have almost been elevated to the status of proverbs and adages. Although most people nowadays remember Samuel Langhorne Clemens alias Mark Twain for his unforgettable novel Huckleberry Finn, he was more appreciated in his days for the travelogues he wrote. Twain's first full-length travel book, The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869, was based on his journey to Europe and the Holy Land. The book was a bestseller in its days, second only to Uncle Tom's Cabin in terms of sales. A Tramp Abroad and Following the Equator were the other two books in Mark Twain's celebrated trilogy of travelogues. Roughing It, the semi-autobiographical prequel to The Innocents Abroad, is yet another popular travel literature by Twain.
6. Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer was part of an expedition team trying to climb the Nanga Parbat in 1939 when the Second World War began, and the unfortunate mountaineers were sent to a detention camp in Bombay because of the political tension between Austria and Great Britain. The convicts tried to escape to Portuguese Goa but remained unsuccessful. Later, they were transferred to another detention camp in Dehradun. After several failed attempts at escaping, Heinrich Harrer and his team leader Peter Aufschnaiter finally succeeded in escaping to Tibet, which was then an independent country. Assisted by Aufschnaiter's introductory knowledge of the Tibetan language, the duo succeeded to reach Lhasa in 1946, and after a couple of years, Harrer found employment as the official translator of foreign news and court photographer of the Tibetan Government. Eventually, he was appointed the tutor of the Dalai Lama, teaching him English, geography, and basic science. The two developed a life-long friendship. Having returned to Austria in 1952, Harrer wrote down his experiences in the timeless travelogue Seven Years in Tibet. The book has been translated into more than 50 languages worldwide and has remained a bestseller for long. Two films were made upon the book with the same title, the first in 1956 and the second in 1997. The latter, starring Brad Pitt, is easily available; if you cannot read the book, watching the film will give you some idea about Harrer's timeless work which would surely feature in any list of top ten travelogues ever written.
7. The Beach by Alex Garland This 1996 novel tells the story of the search of a young Britisher called Richard for a pristine, undisturbed sea beach in Thailand, away from the clutches of the tourism industry. In a Bangkok hotel, Richard meets a lunatic Scotsman Daffy Duck, who presents a hand-drawn map of a hidden lagoon and beach in the Gulf of Thailand. Later, Richard develops a friendship with two French people called Étienne and Françoise, and the trio begins the quest for their slice of the pristine paradise on earth. Will they arrive at it and be a part of the beach community that Daffy was once a member of? The novel was widely acclaimed, particularly so because it was debut work of the author. In 2000, Danny Boyle directed a film adaptation by the same name, with Leonardo DiCaprio (as Richard), Robert Carlyle (as Daffy), Virginie Ledoyen (as Françoise), Guillaume Canet (as Étienne), and Tilda Swinton (as Sal, leader of the beach community) in the lead roles.
8. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson When it comes to modern-day travel writing, William "Bill" McGuire Bryson is a prolific name. While The Road to Little Dribbling and A Walk in the Woods are also two of his fascinating works, there is a reason why I preferred Notes from a Small Island for this list to the others. It was the work with which Bryson rose to prominence. First published in 1995, this humorous account on Great Britain records Bryson's tour all over the island, before returning to his homeland America, having lived in Great Britain for some twenty years. If you are in love with the quaint English countryside and its rich heritage and culture, you are definitely going to be fascinated by this book. He was amazed by the rich history and heritage of Great Britain and succeeds in conveying that sense of amazement to his readers. For example, the fact that the Yorkshire village he lived in contains more seventeenth-century buildings than the whole of North America was quite astonishing to Bryson. He was also amused by the linguistic differences between American and British English, which led to several humorous incidents in the book. Overall, this book is an amusing read, quite unputdownable.
9. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams This fascinating work by Adams that puts in a lot of research about Hiram Bingham's rediscovery of the Machu Picchu in the Andean mountains, and the author's own explorations into those remote vaults of archeological treasure. A New York Times bestseller, Turn Right at Machu Picchu excels in simplifying history and archeology for the layman, delivering it with the ease and excitement of an adventurous travel account. Adams' fascinating explorations of the Andean mountains along with John Leivers, an Australian quinquagenarian who was arguably one of the best possible guides in South America, is definitely worth spending your money, time, and energy.
10. Antarctica by Sudipta Sengupta Professor Sudipta Sengupta was among the first two Indian women scientists to take part in the country's Third Antarctica Expedition in 1983-84. The book records her memories right from being selected to reaching Antarctica as part of a mission to establish the first Indian scientific base station in the southernmost continent of the world. Known as Dakshin Gangotri (Lit. South Gangotri), this research station was built in eight weeks by a team of 81 members consisting of scientists and personnel of the Indian Army. The station was functional by January of 1984, and the Republic Day was observed there. Sengupta's writing style has a cascading flow that keeps the reader engrossed, with the topic being nonetheless interesting, coupled with amazing photographs that she took during the expedition. Given the fact that most of us will never set foot on Antarctica, this book is a way to have a glimpse of the life on the coldest continent of the earth – a reason why I was compelled to keep this unique travelogue in my list of top ten travel books of all times.
Which of these travelogues have you already read and what do you think of it? Post a comment below and let me know! Also, you are welcome to suggest any other travelogue that you would like to recommend – I shall surely try to give it a go!
As the lockdown period is on, no books shops are open and not even the online purchase orders are taken. The only way out is online reading. From where did you get these books to read? Please suggest the links for such books.