Wednesday, August 10, 2011

K.C.'s Corner: Dog Days Reading List Pt. 3: Quintet of August Travel Reads

Peat O’Neil gives us her recommendations for travel reads in Dog Days. She will lead Travel Writing Intensive, a two part workshop offered at The Writer's Center in November. 

My corollary to “when you travel, read” is “when you cannot travel, travel by book.” Peat O’ Neil reads,  but not” too much,  ” travels, and then writes about her travels. In her own books such as Pyrenees Pilgrimage: Walking Across France, her notes form a terrific reading list for the wannabe traveler as does her blog on the book. Today Peat tips us off to a “Quintet of August Travel Books.”

Skating to Antarctica                                                                                                                         Escape the summer heat and humidity with Jenny Diski’s Skating to Antarctica, A Journey to the End of the World (Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1997) . The narrative skates the edges of Diski’s memories while the ‘Vavilov’ navigates around ice-floes. Come on board through Diski’s wry commentary on the eclectic collection of characters assembled on the Russian oceanographic research ship retooled to carry paying guests.  Diski mulls her personal history growing up in London while staring at the white and blue-grey seascape, revealing a cool inner-scape with her educated cranky-traveler voice, such a refreshing change from standard ‘wow-gee-whiz’ travel writing.

 Sacre Blues                                                                                                                                
 If you think Canada is just about hockey and “eh?” at the end of sentences, read Taras Grescoe’s book Sacre Blues, An Unsentimental Journey Though Quebec (Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 2000).  Quebec is a vast and singular nation-province in North America, about three times the size of Texas. Grescoe is a raucous guide through the history, politics, vice and culture of the largest French-speaking zone outside of L’Hexagone,  (the nickname for mainland France based on its shape). Consider this: Canada holds the world’s most extensive fresh water reserves at 8% of global supply and Quebec has 3% of global freshwater which makes the province a significant owner of the only strategic resource that humans really need to survive. Set aside Quebec’s gold, iron, lithium and other mineral resources because the gold of the future is water and Quebec is swimming in it.

No Vulgar Hotel                                                                                                                      
No Vulgar Hotel, The Desire and Pursuit of Venice (New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 2007) steers a delicious passage through Venice and its history, notorious characters,  gossip and manners.  Written by Miss Manners herself -- Judith Martin -- this travel book offers short passages grouped by theme (e.g. Venetian dogs, pirates kidnapping brides, street talk) or famous visitors (e.g. Napoleon, James Whistler, Hollywood movie stars).  The author’s highly refined sense of satiric fun and episodic structure makes this book a stress-free trip to Venice with a peerless companion.

Country Driving                                                                                                                        
 Peter Hessler’s Country Driving , A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory (New York: HarperCollins,  2010) is a solid front-runner among the many travel narratives exploring 21st century China.  With unsentimental clarity and sympathetic humor, Hessler shows off the country with snapshots and profiles of people in modern China. The chapter about getting a driver’s license in China is hilarious reading for anyone, but particularly so for me.  A few years ago, I took the same test and shared the excellent highways with earnest but unskilled drivers whose road training occurred on a bicycle. Get an eyeful of the future’s global boss through Hessler’s eyes and experience.  The long-time Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker was an early Peace Corps English teacher and he demonstrates superior awareness of China’s people and psychology.

Without a Paddle 

Who would race twelve hundred miles around Florida in a sea kayak and finish in 19 days?  Warren Richey did.  Without a Paddle (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010) successfully tells of a grueling, exciting water race around Florida, including a forty-mile portage across south Georgia to connect the St. Marys River and the Suwannee River. Talk about high risk:  competitors paddle for weeks south east from Tampa around the Everglades and north to Jacksonville, then tow a loaded sea kayak (on portable wheels) along shoulder-less roads where semis loaded with felled pine logs roar past, then they paddle several more days across the Gulf of Mexico back to Tampa.  A travel narrative about a race when days and nights summon the same watery vista could easily fail to enchant a reader, but Richey is an experienced reporter and heroic paddler. Even if you would never consider entering the Ultimate Florida Challenge,  feel the pressure of the race, painful physical fatigue and emotional upheaval through Richey’s fast paced prose.

We are midway through the Dog Days, at least according to the Roman Calendar.  What are you, where are traveling before reading. What do you read before traveling? Look for a few more posts of Dog Days Reads. Want to submit a list or guest blog on Dog Day's Reading Lists. Post here or send to 

1 comment:

NC Weil said...

My all-time favorite travel read is "Stalin's Nose" by Rory MacLean - travels with a pig in a tiny car through the East European bloc soon after the Wall came down.
Another great read: "Searching for Hassan" by Terence Ward (my cousin) who chronicles his family's travels in Iran in 1998 to look for their old housekeeper (they lived in Tehran 1960-69).