By Ashly Moore Sheldon • May 29, 2019
I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I don't really like to travel. Don't get me wrong! I have had plenty of amazing adventures to glorious places and I look forward to many more. But for the most part, I'm a homebody. The prospect of visiting far-off, foreign locales often strikes me as uncomfortable. (Not to mention expensive!) So I love to read books that provide me with the experience of a journey. Heck, sometimes they even infuse me with a bit of that so-called wanderlust. Here are a few of my favorites.
In Travels with Charley: In Search of America, a 58-year-old John Steinbeck takes off with Charley, his trusty black poodle, in a custom-made camper to rediscover the country he has been writing about for so many years. Dealing with maladies, both physical and emotional, he also seems to be seeking to find peace with himself and a changing America. Though writing about the early 1960s Steinbeck's clear-eyed observations about US culture continue to be relevant today. His straightforward, elegant prose makes this an easy and enjoyable read as he relays stories about the places he sees and the people he meets along the way.
In Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, another renowned American author, Zora Neale Hurston provides an insider's perspective on Carribbean voodoo culture in the 1930s. Part travelogue, part ethnography, this is a fascinating exploration into a dark and mysterious world. Hurston approaches life (and these experiences) with a sense of adventure and openness that is contagious.
Speaking of independent women, I remember reading (and loving!) West With the Night by Beryl Markham when I was a teenager and I am so pleased to find that it stands the test of time. Markham writes of her experiences coming of age in Kenya during the 1920s and 1930s. Always an adventurer, Markham grew up hunting, training and racing horses, and learning to fly. But even beyond her extraordinary experiences, her lyrical, evocative voice is reason enough to read this book.
Did you see the 2009 movie Julie and Julia starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep (based on a book by the way)? If you're like me, you may have found yourself wanting to fast-forward through the Julie segments to get more Julia. If so, this book is perfect! It's all Julia, all the time. My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme tells the story of how Julia Child went from being a bored patrician housewife with no cooking experience to becoming one of the most beloved chefs in the world, known for her endearing television persona as she popularized the art of French cuisine.
After backpacking through India in her twenties, Australian journalist Sarah Macdonald decided conclusively that she had no desire to return to the heat, pollution, and poverty of the place. But eleven years later, she quits her dream job and moves to New Delhi for love. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure is her, often hilarious, chronicle of learning to understand and accept this overwhelming, and often frustrating, culture. Macdonald learns that only by embracing the experience in all its chaos and contradiction, does she stand a chance to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by acclaimed New Yorker writer and lifelong surfer William Finnegan will leave you dreaming about riding the waves (even if you've never surfed before!). Finnegan's vivid and immersive writing style is hypnotic, taking you from his Hawaii and California upbringing and through his wave-chasing adventures all over the world.
As you read A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, you may find yourself ruminating on all the places you have inhabited and their significance in your life. This exquisite collection of essays serves as a meditation on the innate value of allowing oneself to wander both literally and figuratively. Solnit's style is reminiscent of a late night talk at a coffee shop with a kindred spirit, rambling, yet deep, full of wisdom and whimsy.
It's happened to all of us, right? One minute we're flirting with that cute guy at the bar and then the next thing you know, we're sailing across the Pacific with him. Ok, maybe not. In Love With a Chance of Drowning, Torre DeRoche shares her breathtaking, and often hilarious, account of testing a fledgeling relationship by climbing aboard a leaky, old boat with her new flame and setting out on a yearlong sailing voyage alone with him. This may sound insane to some (me, for example) but DeRoche's refreshingly honest and insightful perspective goes deeper than you might expect. Sure, this is a story about romance, but it's also about facing one's fears and learning to love adventure.
When it comes to reading, travelogues often provide the best of both worlds, exciting stories coupled with the opportunity to learn about new places. Whether you are looking to travel the world from the comfort of your own bed or hoping to find inspiration for your next big trip, a book is your perfect vehicle. Take a virtual trip or two with these great reads.