Well, I suppose I should start with a guide of the true traveller’s mentality, in my opinion: Bruce Chatwin’s The Anatomy of Restlessness (1997). I’m lost and found.
Next up is Le Petit Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exuperty, who wasn’t a travel writer per se, but a true explorer. Supposedly a children’s book, it is actually a philosophical work about life, human nature and growth. Brilliant, and by no means naive.
The list is not complete without the one that never disappoints: able to transmit dreams and transport into the world that is beyond words and beyond pages: Sommerset Maugham. His Ashenden is incredibly witty and mischievous!
Not long ago, by recommendation, I got this book and after reading it in 5 days, I was hooked: not travel literature per se, but having been with the UN for some time I’m familiar with its functions and the general mindset: Cain, Postlewait, Thomson (2006) – Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: True Stories from a War Zone. Written from distinctive perspectives of three UN workers in different professions – a doctor, a lawyer and a secretary, in faraway war-torn places they were alternately stationed, detailing cultural and geographic wonders, it is sentient, raw, bittersweet, intense, and exquisite.
I also like to take on James Clavell and his Far Eastern journeys (Shogun, Gai Jin, and Whirlwind set in Iran). But his works are so very long that I seldom actually finish reading them. They feel like a long, exhaustive trip that you return home from earlier.
Mark Twain is just so refined in The Innocents Abroad (1869) and Roughing It (1872).
Here’s a really fun and accurate account of Italy’s temperament: Beppe Severgnini’s (2006) La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. Having lived there I can attest that it’s quite the truthful account.
Paul Theroux‘s great railway journeys have also sparked my interest. Riding the Iron Rooster (1988), The Old Patagonian Express (1979), Dark Star Safari (2002) but, for some reason, I never liked re-reading Theroux.
I mentioned the movie last time; the book is even better: Alex Garland‘s The Beach (1996).
In other languages:
Momo Kapor (2008) – Putopis kroz Biografiju (Travel Memoirs of Life). There are a few of his works translated to English, such as A Guide to the Serbian Mentality and The Magic of Belgrade.
Ella Maillart (2001) – Oasi Proibite: Una donna in viaggio da Pechino al Kashmir (Prohibited Heavens: One woman’s quest from Beijing to Kashmir). A passionate and courageous explorer, she embarked on a nomadic expedition to the Great Himalayas alone.
Le Petit Prince is better in original (French), as ever.