For those of us who live in cities where we follow miles of concrete to find any sort of adventure, books and stories where the author sets out without a map or heads to faraway places always have an added allure. I’ve been thinking about this since reading about the passing of the journalist Matthew Power in Uganda. As the writer Tom Bissell pointed out in a Facebook tribute post to Power, “If you travel, you must trust. Openness is not gullibility. A willingness to be vulnerable does not endanger you,” and that’s what made Power one of the best when it came to documenting his experiences in faraway places.
Although tragedy was one of the factors that got me thinking about writers who can go somewhere far away, write about it, and perfectly transport the reader there, I also happened to be reading The Broken Road when I heard the news of Power’s passing. Although it’s worth reading the entire series, you could pick up the third and final book of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s teenage stories from his walk across continental Europe in the early 1930s. Fermor journeys through Hungary, Romania, and all the way to the Black Sea; just jump right in, and work backwards if you want.
While we start to thaw out and await the arrival of travel season, here are a few other literary journeys we’d suggest embarking upon.
Great Plains, Ian Frazier
Frazier is really one of the only living authors who can take what people on the coasts refer to as “flyover country,” and turn it into something as glorious as this book. This is the US that writers usually runaway from. Not Frazier.
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey
Abbey spent three years living in the desert at Moab, Utah. What he learned about the land, and himself, he turned into this beautiful book.
In Morocco, Edith Wharton
Before Bowles and the Beats went there, Wharton went exploring Morocco, and wrote about it in her own unforgettable way in this overlooked classic travel memoir.
A Sense of Direction, Gideon Lewis-Kraus
A wayward soul for the 21st century, Lewis-Kraus decides the only way to calm himself — and his family — is to go on some of the most famous pilgrimages in world history.
Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, Arlene Blum
Blum was the leader of the expedition that sent a team of 13 women — the first women ever — to scale Annapurna I, the world’s tenth-highest peak. Her book recounts the triumph, as well as the tragedy, in an unforgettable way.
The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard
This 1910 expedition to the Arctic truly did sound like the worst journey in the world, and Cherry-Garrard’s description of the disgustingly cold place will make you think twice about complaining next winter. Yet the story he tells is so gripping and moving that Cherry-Garrard turns something that could have been terrible into the type of book you must experience.