I began to read travel literature when the peripatetic period of my late teens and twenties came to an end. Patrick Leigh Fermor, Dervla Murphy and Wilfred Thesiger offered some relief for the yearning for adventure and wild places that came when I hung up the dress-like jalabiya that had allowed me to pass discreetly through much of rural North Africa (my last significant, open-ended travel adventure), and adopted the traditional jumper of native England.
The sort of haphazard drifting that impelled me across North Africa, through much of aromatic East Asia, deep into the steamy jungles of Borneo and across a small part of the largest desert on the planet, is best bookended at either end of the grown up responsibilities of raising a child and trying to hold down a career. Or so I managed to convince myself.
Nick Hunt’s Walking the Woods and the Water offers the intimacy that comes from reading great travel journals, conveying a strong sense of personality as well as a strong sense of place. There were times when I felt Hunt had outshone Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his own teenage trek from The Hook of Holland to Istanbul. What was so familiar from my own wandering is that intense optimism that is so essential to goad you on your journey when the discomforts or dangers occasionally feel too pronounced. If you enjoy travel literature Nick Hunt’s book is recommended. Like Patrick Leigh Fermor who inspired his adventure, Hunt is a traveller from an ancient tradition.
In no particular order, this is a list of my favourite writers/books. Of course, it is incomplete.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Pale Fire and Speak, Memory and literary lectures
Simone de Beauvoir
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup
Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Pascal Quignard’s The Roving Shadows
John William’s Stoner
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Jay Griffith’s Wild: An Elemental Journey
Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s War and War
Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness
Carlos Fuentes’s Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
Ruth Reichl’s Endless Feast
Teju Cole’s Open City
Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation
Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? and The Lessons of Modernism
Virginia Woolf’s later novels and diaries
Jospeh Heller’s Something Happened
WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
Don DeLillo’s Underworld
Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Richard Power’s The Time of our Singing
Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues
Inspired by Verso Books’ excellent Guide to Political Walking, below is my guide to books that effortlessly combine walking, with musing about culture, literature, politics and geography, a form of exercise that I endorse.
With a few hours to spare I indulged one of my favourite pursuits, scouring the shelves of secondhand bookshops for surprises. My targets were Slightly Foxed and Heywood Hill. I stumbled upon 3 first editions: The Woman Who Was God by Francis King, The Haunt by A. L. Barker (both writers advocated by Rebecca West) and a rare Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
A few hours later, to my surprise, I learnt of Leigh Fermor’s death.His travel books are outstanding examples of the genre. We shall see if there is a third volume, long promised, of his legendary walk, as a teenager, from Holland to Constantinople.