Wednesday, February 20, 2013

15 of my Favorite Travel Related Books

Ok, I think I need to preface this by saying I play fast and loose with the label 'travel related'. I imagine that very few of these (if any) would make a normal list of "travel books". This list is also almost entirely composed of fictional books. From my point of view, literally every fictional book worth reading is a "travel book" in the sense that it transports you to another place or time. So in coming up with this list I focused more on books that involved the main character doing some travelling, not just the reader. This list is also presented in the order in which they came to my mind, not with any relationship to their merit. It's also not anywhere close to an exclusive list. These are just the first fifteen I could think of, and I'm sure that the second I put this out, I will think of more.

  1. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois. This remains one of my all time favorite books. A retired teacher sets off for a long ambling journey by balloon and unexpectedly discovers a small mysterious island. 
  2. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Despite some inaccurate stereotypes of foreign countries, a really fun read. On a bet, an Englishman and his French valet set off to make it around the world in under 80 days. 
  3. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. While I could have very easily put the whole Chronicles of Narnia series on the list, I picked this one out as being the most emblematically travel related of the group. In this book, the younger two Pevensie children and their cousin join Caspian on a sea voyage to the ends of the earth. 
  4. Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien. Again, I could have easily listed all of Tolkien's books but for me this is the one I think of when I think of a long journey. Anyway, Frodo Baggins is a hobbit who unexpectedly comes into possession of a very powerful ring and he and his friends undertake a long journey. 
  5. Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. To be honest, this one's a bit of a stretch, but considering that I still remember this book so many years later, it must be good. Wesley cultivates a weed in his backyard that eventually leads to him creating his own civilization, Weslandia. (Ok, so he doesn't actually go anywhere, but there are interesting things in your own backyard if you care to look). 
  6. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I've read this in both English and French (though I believe the original language is Portuguese) and loved it both times. A shepherd boy goes to Egypt in search of treasure. Basic message: your dreams are worth working for. 
  7. Abarat by Clive Barker. A really good fantasy series, and apparently he's got two more to go too. Great artwork on top of it. Basically, a girl from a small town runs away and then gets transported to a magical archipelago. 
  8. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The ultimate classic pirate story: A small boy finds a pirate's treasure map and sets off to find it, but not everyone on board the ship has good intentions. 
  9. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes the actress).  Three kids set out with an eccentric professor to find the last of a magical species. Although the wholesomeness of the book is sometimes borderline nauseating, the imagery is really beautiful. 
  10. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. I feel bad that I'm doubling up on an author, but the books couldn't be more different. In this one, a professor of marine biology (interesting how many of these adventures happen to professors) becomes the prisoner of the mysterious Captain Nemo aboard his extraordinary submarine, the Nautilus. 
  11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. If you've only ever seen a movie version, do yourself a favor and read the book. As you probably know, a little boy is the lucky finder of a golden ticket permitting him entry to a mysterious chocolate factory. Again, this one's a little bit of a stretch from a travel perspective, but I would argue that Willy Wonka's chocolate factory is an entirely different world. Also, did you know that Roald Dahl wrote the initial screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was based on a book by Ian Fleming, the same guy who invented James Bond?
  12. Murder on the Orient Express by Agathie Christie. Ok, this one is probably the biggest stretch on the list in that the plot has very little to do with traveling, but this is the book that made me fall in love with sleeping car trains. Someday it is my dream to take the Orient Express across Europe like Hercule Poirot, but alas it is far out of my price range. Instead, I will content myself with reading about his adventures aboard the Orient Express when a fellow passenger is murdered during the night. The murderer must still be on the train, but who is it?
  13. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. When I read it in high school, it wasn't my favorite, but it's grown on me over time. Marlow tells the story of how he came to be captain of a boat carrying ivory down the Congo River. Not a happy story, but also not a very long one.
  14. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I read this about three years ago and fell in love, and that is why I will never see the movie. Basically, an Indian boy gets stranded in a life boat with a tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 
  15. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. When we had to read this for summer reading one year in high school, I remember a lot of my friends very strongly, even vehemently, disliking this book, mostly because they abhorred the main character. The book is a nonfictional account of Christopher McCandless who drops out of society to hitchhike all over the place and live in the wilderness. He eventually died in Alaska. Most of my friends couldn't stand him; they felt he was reckless, stubborn, overly confident, and hypocritical. I don't really disagree with that, but for me, the book was far less about McCandless than about Krakauer. The book follows his journey to find out what happened to McCandless, not McCandless' journey, and his change of heart regarding McCandless. It's definitely worth reading. 
What are your favorite travel reads? Think I left something out? Let me know!

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