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Great, another genre in which I am deficient

One of the things I claim to get from my recent world lit addiction is that it enables me to learn about and at least intellectually travel to all sorts of countries. At the same time, I’ve never been huge into so-called travel books. Any doubt of that was erased when the UK’s The Guardian came up with its list of the 20 best travel books of all time.

There is just a slight UK orientation to the list but the number one book is American. And there’s a couple entries might surprise you. Sadly, I’ve only read one and read a few pages into two others. Here’s the list with an triple asterisk after the one I’ve read and one asterisk by the ones I started:

  1. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  2. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee
  3. Naples ’44, Norman Lewis
  4. Coasting, Jonathan Raban
  5. Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck *
  6. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
  7. Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
  8. The Beach, Alex Garland
  9. The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux
  10. The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron
  11. Venice, Jan Morris
  12. In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
  13. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  14. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy *
  15. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby
  16. Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger
  17. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Hunter S. Thompson ***
  18. Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene
  19. The Journals of Captain Cook
  20. Among the Russians, Colin Thubron

It isn’t the fact I haven’t read most of these books that irritates me. It’s that, based on The Guardian‘s descriptions, there’s now even more books I wish I had time to read


You’d better take care of me, Lord . . . because if you don’t you’re going to have me on your hands.

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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2 comments to Great, another genre in which I am deficient

  • Hmm. I’ve read four (2 of which for high school English, so not of my own free will). The definition of travel book seems to be a bit woolly – it just needs to feature someone… in the wrong place?

  • I went through a huge travel literature phase a few years back for the same reason you mention with world literature – the ability to intellectually take a trip somewhere else. That being said, I’ve only read four of these (Bryson, Theroux, Steinbeck, Thompson) and I have a handful of the others on my shelf.

    Though he’s not as critically revered as many travel writers, I love Bill Bryson – especially Notes from a Small Island. It’s funny, which makes it a fast read, and it’s not as bogged down by stats and details and preaching like some of his later books.

    I found that Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea (which most reviewers hate) is a nice follow up. I read both Notes and Kingdom back to back. Bryson remembers his own past in England, while Theroux takes the temperature of the nation during the Faulklands War. They complement each other very well.

    I’m surprised there’s no VS Naipaul here. I’m even more surprised that one of England’s most revered travel writers, H. V. Morton, was left off.

    Oh, and Travels with Charley is wonderful, as you can expect. You should stop what you’re doing and read it now.