There’s nothing like good travel writing to transport a reader into distant lands. I’ve chosen a few classics that I finally around to reading and a few laugh-out-loud tales to entertain, inspire and challenge you on a different kind of journey.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
by Elizabeth Gilbert
If wisdom could be traded like currency, author Elizabeth Gilbert would be a wealthier woman by far, though it’s likely her fabulous memoir, Eat Pray Love, racked up a few bucks during its stay on the New York Times bestseller list. What Gilbert imparts in her story–basically, bracing self-knowledge acquired during a year of travel following a bitter divorce and a shattered rebound romance–is at once astounding yet totally obvious. As Gilbert would attest, albeit more eloquently, the most important stuff in life is pretty much under our noses, but we occasionally have to shake ourselves senseless in order to see it (enlisting a guru and a medicine man are highly recommended).
Take this simple but devastating observation posited while Gilbert was on the final leg of a global tour. “I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and then I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been the victim of my own optimism.”
Ten million women are smiling wry smiles and nodding their heads in agreement (men too, probably, but the book has a definite female skew). Such emotional bulls-eyes are hit early and often in Eat Pray Love, each seemingly more poignant than the last. Alternately funny and heartbreaking and always deeply resonant, Eat Pray Love, takes the reader on two epic journeys – one through Italy, India and Indonesia and the other deep inside Gilbert’s intense psyche. Charles Montgomery’s towering The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia notwithstanding, travel memoirs just don’t get any better than that. –Kim Hughes
The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy
by Sasha Issenberg
One generation ago, sushi’s narrow reach ensured that sports fishermen who caught tuna in most of the world sold the meat for pennies as cat food. Today, the fatty cuts of tuna known as toro are among the planet’s most coveted luxury foods, worth hundreds of dollars a pound and capable of losing value more quickly than any other product on earth. So how has one of the world’s most popular foods gone from being practically unknown in the U.S. to being served in towns all across America, and in such a short span of time? Sushi aficionados and newcomers alike will be surprised to learn the true history, intricate business, and international allure behind this fascinating food.
A riveting combination of culinary biography, behind-the-scenes restaurant detail, and a unique exploration of globalization’s dynamics, journalist Sasha Issenberg traces sushi’s journey from Japanese street snack to global delicacy. THE SUSHI ECONOMY takes you through the stalls of Tokyo’s massive Tsukiji market, where the auctioneers sell millions of dollars of fish each day, and to the birthplace of modern sushi–in Canada. He then follows sushi’s evolution in America, exploring how it became LA’s favorite food. You’re taken behind the sushi bar with the chef Nobu Matsuhisa, whose distinctive travels helped to define the flavors of global sushi cuisine, and with a unique sushi chef blazing a path in Texas. Issenberg also delves into the complex economics of the fish trade, following the ups and downs of the hunt for bluefin off New England, the tuna cowboys on the southern coast of Australia who invented the art of tuna ranching, and uncovering the mysterious underworld of pirates, smugglers, and the tuna black market.
Few businesses reveal the complex dynamics of globalization as acutely as the tuna’s journey from the sea to the sushi bar. After traversing the pages of THE SUSHI ECONOMY, you’ll never see the food on your plate — or the world around you — quite the same way again.
Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer
by Chuck Thompson
Travel writer, editor, and photographer Chuck Thompson has spent more than a decade traipsing through thirty-five (and counting) countries across the globe, and he’s had enough. Enough of the half-truths demanded by magazine editors, enough of the endlessly recycled clichés regarded as good travel writing, and enough of the ugly secrets fiercely guarded by the travel industry. But mostly, he’s had enough of returning home from assignments and leaving the most interesting stories and the most provocative insights on the editing-room floor. From getting swindled in Thailand to running afoul of customs inspectors in Belarus, from defusing hostile Swedish rockers backstage in Germany to a closed-door meeting with travel execs telling him why he’s about to be fired once again, Thompson’s no-holds-barred style is refreshing, invigorating, and all those other adjectives travel writers use to describe spa vacations where the main attraction is a daily colonic.
Smile When You’re Lying takes readers on an irresistible series of adventures in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and beyond; details the effects of globalization on the casual traveler and ponders the future of travel as we know it; and offers up a treasure trove of travel-industry secrets collected throughout a decidedly speckled career.
Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka
by John Gimlette
No one sees the world quite like John Gimlette. As The New York Times once noted, “he writes with enormous wit, indignation, and a heightened sense of the absurd.” Writing for both the adventurer and the armchair traveler, he has an eye for unusually telling detail, a sense of wonder, and compelling curiosity for the inside story. This time, he travels to Sri Lanka, a country only now emerging from twenty-six years of civil war. Delving deep into the nation’s story, Gimlette provides us with an astonishing, multifaceted portrait of the island today.
His travels reveal the country as never before. Beginning in the exuberant capital, Colombo (“a hint of anarchy everywhere”), he ventures out in all directions: to the dry zones where the island’s 5,800 wild elephants congregate around ancient reservoirs; through cinnamon country with its Portuguese forts; to the “Bible Belt” of Buddhism—the tsunami-ravaged southeast coast; then up into the great green highlands (“the garden in the sky”) and Kandy, the country’s eccentric, aristocratic Shangri-la. Along the way, a wild and often desperate history takes shape, a tale of great colonies (Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch) and of the cultural divisions that still divide this society. Before long, we’re in Jaffna and the Vanni, crucibles of the recent conflict. These areas—the hottest, driest, and least hospitable—have been utterly devastated by war and are only now struggling to their feet.
But this is also a story of friendship and remarkable encounters. In the course of his journey, Gimlette meets farmers, war heroes, ancient tribesmen, world-class cricketers, terrorists, a former president, old planters, survivors of great massacres—and perhaps some of their perpetrators. That’s to say nothing of the island’s beguiling fauna: elephants, crocodiles, snakes, storks, and the greatest concentration of leopards on Earth.
Here is a land of extravagant beauty and profound devastation, of ingenuity and catastrophe, possessed of both a volatile past and an uncertain future—a place capable of being at once heavenly and hellish—all brought to vibrant, fascinating life here on the page.
Gathered in the book are two dozen islands once believed to be real but no longer on the map. These are the products of imagination, deception and simple human error. They are phantoms and fakes: an archipelago of ex-isles and forgotten lands.
From the well-known story of Atlantis to more obscure tales from around the globe; from ancient history right up to the present day. This is an atlas of legend and wonder, of places discovered and then un-discovered.
Malachy’s words are accompanied in the book by glorious full-colour illustrations by Katie Scott, who has previously worked with the New York Times, Kew Gardens and the BBC. She is the illustrator of the beautiful Animalium and Botanicum.
Visit the official Un-Discovered Islands website run by Malachy himself here.