Armchair Travel – new and classic titles

by on July 31st, 2012
Armchair Travel – new and classic titles Cover Image

Do you have summer travel plans? No? Then let reading be your escape. Travel writing is a wonderful way to take a trip vicariously, especially a trip to a destination that you wouldn’t necessarily choose or to ones that no longer exist. My picks are a mixture of new and classic travel stories.

Start with “Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed. This new bestseller takes readers on Strayed’s 1,100-mile trek on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). It is a trip Strayed is ill-prepared to take. She is almost always alone. Her shoes are too small. Her pack is too big – so big in fact that she names it Monster. As she hikes she sheds items from her overstuffed backpack and the grief and pain she has carried for years. While “Wild” is the story of Strayed hiking the PCT, it is so much more; it is the journey of Strayed’s redemption.

A much older but classic travel title is John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: in search of America.” Originally published in 1962, “Travels with Charley” recounts Steinbeck’s 10,000-mile journey with his standard Poodle, Charley. They cross the United States in Rocinante, (the name of Don Quixote’s horse), his three-quarter-ton truck, outfitted with a cabin. Steinbeck’s goal was to reconnect with America. “Travels” was well received by the public, but not so by all the critics. Put me firmly in the public camp. I like Charley and I enjoyed Steinbeck’s reflections.

Pick up any travel book by Des Moines native Bill Bryson and you will not be disappointed. A favorite is “A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.” It is a humorous account of one man’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail (AT). After returning to America following a long sojourn in England, Bryson decided to “rediscover” his home country by walking the 2,100-mile trail. He is joined by a childhood friend and the two of them set out on their trek. They too are ill-prepared and have packed far more than needed. But unlike the PCT the AT offers more stops and more opportunities for interactions with other hikers and the local folk. Bryson will provide a summer’s worth of enjoyment and exploration.

Best American Travel Writing” is an annual publication and takes readers across the globe with some of the best writing from magazines and blogs. The short pieces can be serious or humorous and are often eye-opening. If one of the stories strikes your fancy the library may have a book or two by the author. Other travel anthologies include “The Best Women’s Travel Writing: true stories from around the world” or “Best of Lonely Planet Travel Writing.”

Your journey to another location need not involve a plane or train or passport, just a trip to your library. Come explore the shelves and transport yourself.

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