Staff Picks Category: Travel

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson []

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Bill Bryson is at his sincerely sardonic best as he roams his adopted country in search of what he loves best: quaint villages, good hiking, exquisite views, mysterious ancient sites, and odd people to make fun of–including himself. It’s just as unputdownable as all his other travel memoirs.

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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner []

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Eric Weiner is a grump with a mission — trying to discover the happiest places in the world, and what makes them that way. From the World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to the Gross National Happiness of Bhutan, from binge drinking and happiness in Iceland to binge drinking and unhappiness in Moldova, Weiner travels the world and discovers some of what makes different people happy, and the many paths one can take to get there.

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Down the Nile: alone in a fisherman’s skiff by Rosemary Mahoney []

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I liked this independent, determined woman. In the late 1990s, Mahoney, an American writer and experienced recreational rower, got the idea of rowing herself down the Nile.  This is not allowed and virtually never done — tourists always travel on cruise boats or feluccas (small sailboats piloted by their owners). When she set out to buy a small rowboat in Egypt, she was met with disbelief.  Women, even western women, did not travel alone. To a fisherman, rowing was work, so why would she want to do it herself?  Felucca captains and boat owners assumed a woman couldn’t know how to row. Eventually she succeeds in her adventure, and it’s both more and less than expected but always fascinating.

Mahoney is empathetic and eloquent. She engages in conversations with Egyptian men and women she meets, learning a great deal about cultural differences, rampant poverty, and the restricted status of women. She quotes extensively from 19th-century European travelers, notably Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, and gives a selective history of tourism in the region (including colonialism and theft of artifacts) which puts the present-day in context.  So much has changed and so much is the same.  In particular, her descriptions of the river and its natural environment — the wildlife, vegetation, water and sky — are poetic and timeless.

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The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux []

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Have you ever considered traveling from England to Russia via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Japan by train? Me either. Paul Theroux does just that and survives to tell about it in his 1975 travel narrative The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia. This long journey is broken up into chapters by train, starting with the 15:30 London to Paris and ending with the Trans-Siberian Express. Though Theroux embarks from London on his own, he meets a number of colorful characters and manages to have interesting interactions (usually over a drink) despite linguistic and cultural barriers.

Theroux’s writing style is at times so rich with description that you can practically smell the pungent passenger sitting across from him. In other instances, he is blunt and to the point, relaying only that he is in a particular place to catch a train.The writing style mimics the ups and downs of traveling alone in foreign country and truly makes the reader feel as if they were riding the train alongside the narrator. Though Theroux rarely spends more than a day or two off the train, he manages to convey a surprising amount about each of his destinations through descriptions of the train and characters.

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I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson []

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A collection of articles originally written for a weekly British magazine chronicles Bryson’s humorous reintroduction to life in America: “The intricacies of modern American life still often leave me muddled.” From dental floss hotlines, to cupholders, to the abundance of trees in New Hampshire, Bryson entertains us with his laugh-out-loud writing.

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French Milk by Lucy Knisley []

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French Milk is a travelogue, photo journal and graphic novel rolled into one deliciously exciting book. Lucy Knisley illustrates and writes about six-week stay she and her mother had in Paris in 2007. Sightseeing, love interests, her parents and baguettes are all discussed with a great deal of candidness and humor.

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Across Asia on a bicycle by Thomas Gaskell Allen, Jr. and William Lewis Sachtleben. []

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After graduating from George Washington University in 1890, Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben, two American students wishing to expand upon their education with practical experience, decided to travel around the world. Wishing to meet the people along their route, instead of being insulated from them as they would have been had they traveled by more customary means, the two young men chose the newly invented “saftey bicycle” as their primary method of transport. This book tells the story of the most exciting portion of their travels, their journey across Asia, taking the seldom used northern route from Turkey, through Persia (now Iran) and through western China. (The safer and more used path would have led them south through India.)

This book is fascinating as much for what it reveals about the attitudes of these two Americans as it is for what it reveals about the people they met upon there way. It provides an interesting glimpse at the attitudes and politics of the time, and, of course, it is also a great adventure story.

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