Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The three best travel books I've reviewed this year

One of the great bonuses of travel writing is that people like me to review travel books. Funny thing is, I like me to review travel books too! Most of the time it's for my regular review column at Kathika and the books I especially like tend to get mentioned elsewhere too. As I tried to find a book I promised someone could borrow, I got to browse through my collection of recent travel narrative books where I found three that I felt the urge to recommend further:

Narrow Dog to Carcassonne: A great adventure was had by Terry Darlington and his wife; a retired British couple with a love for long boats and a bit of a death wish. Oh, and there's a dog involved too. This story reminded me so much of a book that my intrepid travelling friends Andy and Helen would write, with that fantastic British sense of humour and a real "seeing the world as it is" attitude. (Andy, have you read this? You must!).

Basically, they get the boat, decided on a whim to take it all the way through France, even though nearly everybody tells them it's to dangerous to cross the Channel. They make it, obviously, and have so much fun along the way, and tell the story just so well. I hear there's a sequel arising out of their next trip and I look forward to reading it.

A side note: this is, I think, the first book I ever read that was printed with blue ink. I don't know why it was, but it was a source of fascination for me. But I still would have liked it in black ink, I promise.

Where Underpants Come from: From Checkout to Cotton Field - Travels Through the New China: I love travel stories that start from a whimsical idea, like Tony Hawks who wrote Round Ireland with a Fridge just because someone bet him he couldn't hitchhike the country with a fridge in tow. Joe Bennett's Underpants book came out of buying a pair of underpants in New Zealand and tracing back through manufacturers and suppliers and all kinds of odd people to find exactly where all the components came from.

Of course, it's more than a travel story, it's also about the politics and economics of China (where nearly all the bits of his underpants came from) and the global economy too. And it's about culture and understanding languages too, and basically everything that I love to talk about. And it's also just plain fascinating. I'm just a little jealous I didn't have the idea myself.

Under the Osakan Sun: A Funny, Intimate, Wonderful Account of Three Years in Japan: Hamish Beaton's story is one that I adored, but would probably recommend less broadly than others. I loved this story because I, too, lived in Osaka; I, too, had a "funny, intimate, wonderful" time in Japan. If you're interested in the Japanese culture, and how they welcome a foreigner - and boy, do they do good at welcoming foreigners, at least in my experience and especially when they come as teachers - then this is the book for you. It's a great memento for anyone who has taught in Japan and loved it; for others, I'm not sure. If you read it and you're not a teacher, let me know if it entertains you the way it did me.


  1. I love travel book. You can be sure I take your advice to heart and I will read all three of them.

  2. Thanks Fida, hope you enjoy them! Let me know what you think.

  3. Wow!! Travel books are really interesting.

  4. Love travel and books. These seem to be a good combination. I'm always looking for a good read and will be sure to put these on my list.

  5. Carla, I agree, it's a perfect combination, especially when you don't have a trip planned for a while. Hope you enjoy some of these. Just looked at your blog - lots of gorgeous pictures! Really lovely :-)

  6. If you liked 'Carcassonne', you enjoy 'Narrow Dog to Indian River' which came out earlier this year.
    The same inimitable style, only this time the trip was a thousand or more miles from Virginia to the Gulf of Mexico. The first traditional English narrowboat in the USA, he believes.

    Hear him talk about it here:

  7. Thanks Andrew, I heard the second book was coming but hadn't realised it was already published - I'll definitely be getting my hands on it!


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