Water Cooler: Travel reads

Rachel Baker, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
·3 min read

Apr. 13—Although international travel has yet to fully reopen in the midst of the pandemic, you can still enjoy some globetrotting daydreams. Whether you want to become more travel savvy for a future trip or you just need a mental vacation in the moment, these travel books are sure to inspire your inner nomad.

"As They Were," by M.F.K. Fisher (1982) — A collection of autobiographical essays that follows this food and travel writer's journey from her first time at a fine-dining restaurant in 1914, through a lifetime of innovating food writing and exploration.

"Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff," by Rosemary Mahoney (2007) — Despite the surrounding civil unrest and other obstacles, Mahoney was determined to take a solo trip down the Egyptian Nile. Along the way, she observes the lives of rural Egyptians, battles the extreme heat during the day and faces the terror of sleeping on her small boat at night while crocodiles occupy the waters.

"Arabian Sands," by Wilfred Thesiger (1959) — Disenchanted by Western life, Thesiger set out to travel across the Rub' al Khali, referred to in English as the "Empty Quarter" of the Arabian Peninsula. The book tries to capture the lives of the Bedu people and other inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula as they navigate the quickly expanding development in Western Asia following World War II.

"Black Lamb and Grey Falcon," by Rebecca West (1942) — West travels through and examines Yugoslavia as World War II lurks around the corner. This travel journal mixes cultural analysis with historical context in order to unpack the tense ethnic and political history of the Balkan region and use it as a lens for understanding how it affected the present.

"Chasing the Monsoon," by Alexander Frater (1993) — Frater is the nomadic version of a storm chaser, traveling through India to observe the extraordinary and varied impact of the summer monsoon season. The romance of this book is fostered by its exploration of how weather can shape humanity. Tourists come to get soaked in the rains and locals navigate its challenges.

"Cross Country," by Robert Sullivan (2006) — In this recount of a family's summer tradition of traveling by car cross-country from Oregon to New York, Sullivan captures the American landscape of whizzing highways, empty strip malls and wide-open spaces. He does this through the frame of analyzing the American travel genre itself and reflecting on its legends.

"Dark Star Safari," by Paul Theroux (2003) — A critical look at the effects of Western Aid on Eastern Africa, while traveling from Cairo to Cape Town using a variety of transportation. History and politics are at the forefront of this travel journal as the author attempts to shed his previously held idealistic views, but it does not go without appreciating the beauty and some of the overlooked prosperity found in these African countries.

"In a Sunburned Country," by Bill Bryson (2001) — With adoration, Bryson greets the cheerful and extroverted inhabitants of Australia, and the lives they live in some of the hottest, driest and lethal landscapes in the world. This journey through Australia can't help but carry an adventurous spirit.

"Exterminate All the Brutes" by Sven Lindqvist (1997) — An account of travels that are interwoven with a haunting history of the West's genocidal colonization of Africa. Lindqvist follows in the footsteps of European missionaries, soldiers, explorers and politicians from the eighteenth century to modern times, reflecting on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" as a starting point for his analysis.