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[Book Review]: The World Is A Book

“…and those who do not travel read only a page”

– St Augustine


I’ve always loved reading but especially in the last few years and since I’ve come away from home. I always have a book on the go and most of mine are travel based. With so many long plane and bus journeys, days lazing on the beach and time to myself over the last few months, I’ve got through a lot of books and wanted to share some of the best:



W
ild
by Cheryl Strayed

I have literally just finished reading this and it’s definitely one of the best reads I’ve had in a while: I originally bought it after I’d watched the new film with Reese Witherspoon, but the book is so much better! The story of one girl’s emotional and physical journey trekking the Pacific Crest Trail as she comes to terms with her past and with herself.

SYNOPSIS: At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.



On the Road
by Jack Kerouac

My friend lent me this to read on my many long train journeys while I was interrailing through Europe a couple of years ago:

SYNOPSIS: On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years travelling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a side burned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.



Into the Wild
by Jon Krakauer

The book of one of my all time favourite films – the amazing story of Chris McCandless’s adventure into the wilderness to escape the restraints of society and ‘live pure and off the land’. The book is his story with extracts and quotes from his diary on the road, intertwined with his life story, interviews with his family and friends and the people he met along the way.

SYNOPSIS: In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.


Discovering Beautiful: On the Road to Somewhere by Rory Miller

SYNOPSIS: Discovering Beautiful is the tale of a young Yorkshireman who takes himself off to America for a month-long vacation and ends up embarking on a four year odyssey of travel and adventure. Along the way he lives semi-homeless in New York, crashes numerous cars, visits several American jails, hitch-hikes over fifteen thousand miles, rides freight trains, and works as a stunt cowboy. Ultimately, he is led on a voyage of salvation by fate/destiny/synchronicity/call-it-what-you-will to a life-changing meeting with an odd and intriguing shaman in the deserts of Mexico, the culmination of his search, and the beginning of a whole new journey.


The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

Half set at the time of the Spanish Civil War and half set in modern day Spain, two stories and times intertwine to create a massive twist in one family’s hidden past. Really good holiday reading!

SYNOPSIS: High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother’s will, she has left her job as London’s leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time. But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes terrible memories. As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya’s story: one of crushed idealism, lost love, and families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing letting go of the past, but another when it won’t let go of you.


Off the Beaten Track: My Crazy Year in Asia by Frank Kusy

Was really interesting to read this travel diary from the late 80s while I was travelling Southeast Asia myself, to see how much things have changed since the book was written and how tourism has overtaken some countries and cities:

SYNOPSIS: In 1989, Frank Kusy jumped at the chance to write a travel book on SouthEast Asia. There followed the craziest year of his life: he got married in a Balinese village, attacked by giant spiders in Australia and bombed on the Cambodian border. Not to mention starting a new business in India…



Rupee Millionaries
by Frank Kusy

SYNOPSIS: Dodgy Frank Kusy, born into poverty from immigrant parents, learns to live on his wits––first as an unwitting money collector for Ronnie Kray, later as a Buddhist trader in London’s St Martin’s-in-the-Fields market.
Then he meets up with thuggish ‘Spud’ who is so good at scaring people, notably the Petrovs, two encroaching Russian gangsters, that he hires him on the spot as his business partner.

It’s a deal with the Devil. Spud is a loose cannon, liable to blow up at any moment. The two travel to India to become the largest wholesaler of hippy-Hindi glad rags in the UK, and to fulfil their dream of becoming rupee millionaires. Along the way, they pick up a motley crew of kooky characters––Ram, a lovable, crutch-bound Rajasthani, George, an irascible American, Nick and Anna, a quirky Canadian couple, Susie, a Dagenham girl gone ‘native’, and Rose, the secret love of Ram’s life. These become the ‘Pushkar Posse’, a group of oddball traveller-entrepreneurs who meet once a year to have fun and make money in equal measure. Join Frank on this wild rite of passage through India.



The Bookseller of Kabul
by Asne Seirestad

SYNOPSIS: Two weeks after September 11th, award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad went to Afghanistan to report on the conflict there. In the following spring she returned to live with an Afghan family for several months. For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock in attics all over Kabul. But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and hatred of censorship, he is also a committed Muslim with strict views on family life. As an outsider, Seierstad is able to move between the private world of the women – including Khan’s two wives – and the more public lives of the men. And so we learn of proposals and marriages, suppression and abuse of power, crime and punishment. The result is a gripping and moving portrait of a family, and a clear-eyed assessment of a country struggling to free itself from history.


All of Bill Bryson’s books!

Down Under

Amazing and hilarious synopsis of his road-trip around Australia – I read this just before I came to Australia and I learnt so much and nothing made me more excited!

SYNOPSIS: Bill Bryson describes his travels by railway and car throughout Australia, his conversations with people in all walks of life about the history, geography, unusual plants and animals of the country, and his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality.



Neither Here Not There

His travels around Europe which reminded me of my interrailing experience.

SYNOPSIS: In the early seventies, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe—in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. He was accompanied by an unforgettable sidekick named Stephen Katz (who will be gloriously familiar to readers of Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods). Twenty years later, he decided to retrace his journey. The result is the affectionate and riotously funny Neither Here Nor There.


African Diary

SYNOPSIS: The book details a trip Bryson took to Kenya in 2002. Bryson describes his experiences there and observations about Kenyan culture, geography, and politics, as well as his visits to poverty-fighting projects run by CARE International, to which he donated all royalties for the book.


A Walk in the Woods

SYNOPSIS: A Walk in the Woods is a book describing his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend “Stephen Katz”. The book is written in a humorous style, interspersed with more serious discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people.


Get out of the Office and Cycle to India by Fearghal Jo

One man’s story of escaping the dreary routine of life and office work back home and setting off on a big adventure, learning about the countries he travels through and the people he meets along the way. It’s really for bike lovers (which I’m definitely not!) but I still enjoyed it and it’s definitely recommended.

SYNOPSIS: Disillusioned with his materialistic lifestyle, Fearghal Jo quits the corporate world and swaps his car for a bike, a tent and a camping stove. He cycles out the front door one morning, with no particular destination in mind. He endures painful saddle sores, stolen bags, multiple crashes, assault, amoeba infection, sinusitis, infected wounds, fever, vomiting and sunburn. He is a guest of honour at a Kurdish wedding, and is later towed up a mountain by a passing motorcyclist. Ultimately he arrives at his spiritual home, in an ‘off-the-grid’ forest community in India, where he sleeps on a bed of bamboo and rope, and cooks vegan food over a wood-burning stove. He discovers that there is life beyond the office desk and pledges never to return. An inspiring read for anyone seeking change in their life.


Tracks by Robyn Davidson

I have just finished reading this and thoroughly enjoyed it! A really great, interesting read and I learnt so much about the Aboriginal country of the outback and the relationship between the native aboriginals and white Australians. Apparently there’s also a film of the story which I’m really keen to see now!

SYNOPSIS: ‘I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.’ So begins Robyn Davidson’s perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company. Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.


Vagabonding: an Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

I bought this thinking it was more of a travel story, but it’s actually a factual guide to planning a big trip. It’s actually really interesting and I really wish I’d read it before I came away!

SYNOPSIS:Vagabonding” is about taking time off from your normal life — from six weeks, to four months, to two years — to discover and experience the world on your own terms. Award-winning writer (and veteran shoestring traveller) Rolf Potts shows how anyone armed with an independent spirit can achieve the dream of extended overseas travel.


Up next on my list:

The Complete Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain


Ipanema Turtles: A South American Adventure by Bike by Laura Mottram



Jack London Collection
by Jack London

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