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15books
27 January 2016

Read All About It: 15 Must-Read Books For Travel

Road movies get too much attention. Easy Rider. Mad Max. Thelma and Louise. The Motorcycle Diaries. But, wait, the latter was a book first. And On the Road was a far better novel than it was a film. In any case, windscreens and car windows shoot their own movies and all drivers have to do is gawp and wonder. The key thing is to have something to inspire you on arrival at your motel, hotel, campsite or car park. Here are 15 great reads to take with you on the road…

Lancashire born Chris Moss is an expert in Argentina and has visited every South American country at least once. Having spent over a decade in the Argentine capital, he returned to the UK and now writes online for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Wanderlust and Condé Nast Traveller magazines.

Banner Image Credit: iStock.com/patpitchaya

On the Road Jack Kerouac

Bridging the Jazz Age and the Age of Aquarius, the Beat movement was a celebration of youth, passion and freedom. Kerouac’s famous story of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty’s criss-crossing odyssey on the coast-to-coast highways of the USA has the breeziness of wound-down windows, open roads and journeys without a destination. “Going nowhere fast” became a mantra. But there’s a mystical aim to all this wandering.

Monsignor Quixote Graham Greene

One of Green’s light-hearted “entertainments”, about a Catholic priest and his communist pal travelling around Post-Franco Spain in an ancient little car called Rocinante. Spiritual and intellectual matters are addressed along the way, but always with heaps of humour and humanity.

On Roads Joe Moran

One for the travel-loving anorak, this is a non-fiction account of Britain’s road network, tracing the evolution of the motorways, roundabouts, flyovers, and spaghetti junctions, and livening up the long journey with plenty of anecdotes and quirky asides.

The Motorcycle Diaries Ernesto Guevara

In December 1951, the young Ernesto Guevara set out from Córdoba, Argentina with his best friend, Alberto Granado, on a sputtering 1939 500cc Norton nicknamed La Poderosa II (The Powerful One). Their gap-year took them down to Buenos Aires, west across the pampas, and north through Chile to the Atacama desert all the way to Cuzco and, eventually, the Amazon basin. Guevara’s journal, while heavily edited, is a vigorous, excitable account of first exploration, and our knowledge that what he saw moulded his political vision makes the reading doubly satisfying.

Shadow of the Silk Road Colin Thubron

One of the world’s most fabled highways, the Silk Road is in fact a complex network of ancient trading routes between the Far East and the edge of Europe. Seasoned travel writer and regional specialist Thubron visits northern China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey on his epic journey, sharing political insights, all the colour of the markets and social mores that have survived despite the long period of Soviet control, and remarkable landscapes from the Central Asian steppes to the Gobi desert.

Travels with Charley John Steinbeck

In 1960, Steinbeck set off on an exploratory overland trip from Maine to the Pacific Northwest in the company of his poodle. Hoping to shake off the stasis of too many years at a writer’s desk, he also had lots of questions he wanted to ask about America’s present and future. After using the ferry to travel from Long Island to Connecticut, Steinbeck takes the wheel of his camper and follows a high line across the northern states to the Mojave desert, before dropping south to Texas. It’s a roundabout journey and one in which the author feels, ultimately, lost and directionless  – like America itself.

Andes Michael Jacobs

The only way to travel down the great mountainous spine that links Colombia to Tierra del Fuego is by bus. Jacobs finds himself peering out over many a hair-raising hairpin as he recalls the literary and scientific pioneers who originally mapped and described this dramatic landscape of ancient peoples, modern political challenges, thin air and woolly llamas.

Magic Bus Rory MacLean

Once upon a time – somewhere around 1967 – before the packaged tour, Lonely Planet guides and cybercafés, there was a hippie trail from Istanbul to Kabul, and then on to Kathmandu and Goa. Maclean retraces the journey, comparing those times and these, the pioneering potsmokers and budget-conscious backpackers. Sadly, he cheats by using ordinary buses, and some trains, but the account is wise and often witty. You’ll have to imagine the old VW, and the fuzzy peace of the pre-9/11 era.

White Fever Jacek Hugo-Bader

As a fiftieth birthday present to himself, Hugo-Bader sets out to drive from Moscow to Vladivostok crossing the continent-sized wastes of Siberia. What he sees through his rain-spattered windscreen is a post-Communist disaster zone, stricken alcoholism, homelessness, suicides, murderers, and AIDS. The author seeks refuge and comfort in the company of dropouts, shamans and rappers. Darkly entertaining and a lot easier than doing the journey yourself.

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America Bill Bryson

On home turf after 14 years in England, Bryson travels 14,000 miles through 38 states looking for his lost youth and the mythic America of metals and real-meat hamburger. A futile odyssey, in a way, but a very funny one.

In Search of England HV Morton

Having scooped the story of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1923, Lancashire-born Morton cashed in on his newfound fame by writing a series of travelogues around Britain. His 1927 account of a road trip from London to Dartmoor to Herford to York to Norwich and back again was a bestseller and is full of the pungent prejudices and dusty stereotypes of its day.

Wild Coast John Gimlette

This Dolman prizewinning travel book guides us through Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, three oft-overlooked tiny nations cut off from the rest of South America by language, history and impossibly dense jungles. Well-researched and quietly intelligent, it unearths a land of breathtaking biodiversity, dusty red roads, prison camps, cricket and colonial exploitation.

McCarthy’s Bar Pete McCarthy

Warrington-born comedian Pete McCarthy travelled around Ireland in his rented “repmobile” to rediscover his roots and came away with this drily hilarious, occasionally rather drunk, account of the characters and conflicts, beauty and blarney that define the modern nation.

Motherland Simon Roberts

Stark, muted, often melancholy photographs from a year-long journey from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad, accompanied by quotes from Russian literary and political figures and an informative introduction – one to enhance the coffee-table bored of lifestyle magazines and pretty pictures.

The End of Elsewhere Taras Grescoe

Because overland trips can become endless and sometimes arrive only at spiritual dead ends, Grescoe’s attempt at describing and decoding the global tourist circuit – and its traps – deserves a mention here. He takes buses, taxis, trains, and Shanks’s pony to Calais, Brussels, Gruyères, Beaune, Paris, Rome, Corfu, Istanbul, Mumbai, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Hong Kong and many points between. Travel as endurance test.

 

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