I've been thinking about travel-related reading recently, due to being asked to participate in a travel-themed book club and also a friend's recent post on facebook listing his favorite travel narratives and requesting suggestions.
His list of books included Blue Highways, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Travels with Charley, and Walden.
The suggestions I made were Planetwalker, Climbing Free, Miles from Nowhere, My Journey to Lhasa, My Life in France, Beyond the Sky and the Earth plus some Edward Abbey and Kerouac.
The travel-themed book club I joined (which has not yet met to discuss a book) will be reading Tales of a Female Nomad, The Motorcycle Diaries, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being over the next few months.
I also had a conversation with Dan about some of his favorite travel books and he listed several fiction picks, including The Hobbit and The Crossing (and others by Cormac McCarthy).
For me this brought up the question, what is a travel book?
The first thing that comes to my mind is a non-fiction, first person, adventure narrative of a trip of some sort. Looking at some of these selections though, it is clear that the genre is much broader than that and definitely includes fiction, and possibly even stories about a place written by a local rather than a traveler.
When I asked one of the owners of RiverRead, our local independent bookstore, about this, she said that when people come in looking for travel guides for a specific country, she typically recommends one guidebook (such as Lonely Planet) plus one work of fiction set in the country (such as Little Bee). I like this idea and plan to expand my own list of favorite travel narratives to reflect these broader lines.
I also found a couple of lists online of "must read" travel books including The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time from Conde Nast Traveler. Interestingly, I think I've only read 2 of the 86, which just goes to show how broadly interpreted and just plain huge this category is.
What are your favorite travel narratives?