If I didn’t work for a living, my days would be filled with travel and books. I suspect others feel the same. While work intervenes, and gives me much personal satisfaction, I have rich fantasies about where I’d go, and what I’d read, next. Don’t get me started on my travel wish list. But here, in no particular order, are the next five books I plan on reading (or finishing in some cases) -and the authentic travel insights I hope they’ll bring. My only dilemma- where to focus my reading next.
1. Alexandre Trudeau’s Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China
Trudeau just happens to be the son of one of Canada’s former leaders, and the brother of its current one. This book discusses what he has learned from many trips to China (including as a child on diplomatic missions with his father). It also draws from interviews with contemporary Chinese artists, film makers, and migrant workers, among others. In a recent CBC Radio interview he mused that travel is equaĺly about your own process and willingness to be open as it is about seeing the sites. A traveller after my own heart!
2. Tony Judt’s Postwar.
Postwar delves into 20th and very early 21st century European history. I am one-third of the way through this large -but vividly written book. Judt shows how many of today’s European geopolitical tensions had their roots in reconstruction efforts immediately after the Second World War. He also shows how the problematic withdrawal of European colonizers in the Middle East around the same time influenced today’s issues in that region. Despite his academic training, Judt uses an effortless, almost novel-like writing style. I’ve already learned a lot about countries I’ve visited recently and plan to visit. Particularly insightful if you seek a better understanding post-communist Eastern Europe. Because there is so much information, though, I find it best to read one chapter (essay) at a time.
3. Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Reviews have called attention to Solnit’s theme of finding yourself while wandering. It’s a powerful idea, particularly for those of us whose regular lives can feel regimented and over-scheduled.
4. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
This book documents Strayed’s brave journey to recovery from the death of her mother and from addiction by hiking the full length of the US Pacific Crest trail, from the Mexican to Canadian borders. I’ve seen the movie but as we all know, films seldom capture the rich insights of the books they immortalize. Based on how good the movie actually was, and having read another book by Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things, I absolutely love her voice. There is no question that she is self-aware and a thoughtful observer of humanity -two cornerstones of authentic travel.
5. Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island
I read this book ten years ago, and it is firmly on the pile of travel books I’d like to re-read. Bryson has a charming sense of humour, a good meaure of it self-deprecating. An excerpt: “Exeter is not an easy place to love. It was extensively bombed during the [second world] war… I wandered around beneath gloomy street lights, looking in shop windows and reading these strange posters… for provincial newspapers that you always find in Britain. I have an odd fascination with these because they are always wholly unfathomable to nonlocals (Letterbox rapist strikes again, Beulah flies home) or so boring that you can’t imagine how anyone could possibly have thought they would boost sales (Council storm over dustbins contract, phone box vandals strike again.) My favourite… was Woman, 81, dies.”
With observations like these, it’s easy to imagine the type of conversation one might have at a dinner party next to Bryson. Is his work authentic or does it shed an authentic light on the Britain he visits? Absolutely, because Bryson takes great delight when people and places reveal themselves to be themselves. He celebrates the genuine, warts and all, and with affection. It doesn’t hurt that he has the perspective of being both an outsider (born and raised in the US) and an insider (married to a Brit and living there as a permanent resident).
I’ve shared five books that I hope will enrich my own perspectives on authentic travel. I hope they will also be useful to blog readers. Of course, the dilemma for me is choosing which one to focus on next. And there are so many other wonderful books out there that I’d also love to get to. But even with a reading list a kilometre long, I’m always happy to hear from others with their own reading lists.