If wanderlust has you restless or the comforts of home are feeling ho-hum, a good book can refocus your energy and fuel your imagination. These recent releases (and a couple timeless classics) will take you on an adventure — and inspire you to start planning your own!
By Russell Banks
“A man who’s been married four times has a lot of explaining to do,” begins Voyager, before launching into the first essay about a soul-searching journey set on the white sands of the Caribbean. Part autobiography, part lush imagery, this collection by award-winning writer Russell Banks, shares tales from a half century of exploration—from traveling to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro and trekking the pristine Alaskan wilderness to climbing the Himalayas at age 72!
Choice quote: “My chest tightened as I drove and I thought I'm not worthy of this much beauty. No human is. But I’ll sure as hell take it.”
By Andrew Solomon
Get lost in Andrew Solomon’s captivating reportage from a career spanning 25 years and seven continents. Solomon writes of countries in the midst of transition, painting gripping accounts of fear, disillusionment and hope by those wishing to disrupt the status quo. Whether focusing on artists trying to subvert government oppression, interviewing the president of Ghana or reporting from the slums of Rio de Janeiro as people are displaced for the Olympic Games, Solomon encourages readers to reflect on the balance of power as some people alter history and others are affected by it.
Choice Quote: “By the time I check in for my flight, the coup has failed, defeated in part by internal argument and in part by soldiers who deferred to human barricades.”
By Bob Shacochis
Pulitzer Prize finalist Bob Shacochis has done his fair share of traversing the globe, from his time as a Peace Corps volunteer to long stints as a war correspondent and contributing editor to Outside magazine. Kingdoms in the Air is a collection of his travel essays from 1989 to the present, full of signature bravado recounting death-defying adventure. But in addition to rugged action stories, nuanced portraits emerge of his travel companions and global plights. For example, the titular essay describes a journey to Nepal with friend Thomas Laird, the first foreigner to live in the kingdom of Mustang, who returns more than a decade later to find his legacy sullied in the new political landscape.
Choice Quote: “Whatever your resources, the world was yours to the exact degree to which you summoned the fortitude and faith to step away from convention and orthodoxy and invent your own life. ... there’s never a good reason to make your world small.”
By Geoff Dyer
Throw this book into your travel bag and fish it out if something goes wrong — after all, misery loves company. With dry British humor, Geoff Dyer recounts his various travel misadventures and disappointments, from being thoroughly dissatisfied with the beaches of Tahiti to enduring a punishingly cold journey to Norway to see the Northern Lights, which don’t appear until the flight home — on the other side of the plane. Mixing fiction and nonfiction with signature crabbiness, the collection ends on an introspective note. “Beginning,” the final chapter and an account of Dyer’s having a mild stroke, has him reexamining his priorities and realizing that his penchant for disappointment is actually a blessing: It proves he still expects much from the world.
Choice Quote: “It is always nice to be greeted with a necklace of sweet-smelling tropical flowers, but at the same time, there is often something soul-destroying about it.”
By Bill Bryson
Twenty years after writing his best-selling guide to England, Notes From a Small Island, fate leads Bill Bryson, a native Iowan and newly minted British citizen, to travel the longest straight line possible through Britain (a route he determines himself, then modestly deems “The Bryson Line”). With history lessons and a healthy dose of harrumphing along the way, Bryson’s keen observations and wit take center stage as he describes the must-see attractions of Britain along with its more obscure oddities (The Pillbox Study Group, The Roundabout Appreciation Society). Despite his crankiness, he saves unabashed wonder for his descriptions of the countryside, betraying a reverent love for his adopted home.
Choice Quote: “If you do a web search for things to do in Bognor, Hotham Park is the first thing that comes up. The second suggested attraction is a shop selling mobility scooters.”
By Rinker Buck
In the throes of midlife burnout, award-winning author Rinker Buck sets out with his brother on a 2,000-mile road trip along the Oregon Trail — just as the pioneers did: via a mule-drawn covered wagon. As they abandon 21st-century technology and plod along the 19th-century route at 4 mph, Buck tells the history of the trail, triumphs over its grueling challenges and reflects on familial relationships and influential early experiences (like the “See America Slowly” wagon journey his father took the family on when Buck was young). His brother, a gruff Maine outdoorsman, a team of idiosyncratic mules and a mutt named Olive Oyl round out the cast of characters for the journey into the “vast soulful horizons” of this majestic country.
Choice Quote: “The expansiveness of the landscape was hypnotic and physically exhilarating, and after the first mile I felt as if I were levitating on the plains.”
By Robert Moor
Inspired by his love for the Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor, an environmental journalist, writes a meditation on the concept and purpose of trails in his nonfiction debut. With a touch of philosophy, he explores how footpaths become highways, how ants and horses find their way and how we each find our own path in life. His careful consideration of detail and expanse provide a soothing, enlightening read that is sure to spur one’s sense of wonder.
Choice Quote: “On a trail, to walk is to follow. Like prostration or apprenticeship, trail walking both requires and instills a certain level of humility.”
By Mimi Thorisson
Five years ago, Mimi Thorisson and her family fulfilled the daydreams of many by moving to an old château in Médoc, France — one look at the stunning countryside and exquisite French dishes in this, her second cookbook, and you will understand why. Author of the beloved blog Manger, Thorisson takes readers inside her slow-food lifestyle, one surrounded with homegrown produce, homemade breads and friends and family. The book’s indulgent recipes, like Wine Harvest Pot au Feu, will inspire you to experience the unapologetic richness of France for yourself. (Available Oct. 25.)
Choice quote: “Fig and Pistachio Cake: This is my garden party cake, the one I’d make if the Queen of England ever came to visit. She’d have to come in fig season, of course, and we’d have tea and a slice each of this moist cake. We would sit there and discuss our dogs and she would comment that fox terriers have a terrible reputation and that, in her opinion, corgis are a much more interesting breed. She’s the Queen so I wouldn’t argue with that; afterwards we’d just stick to the weather and have more cake.”
By Joshua Foer
Atlas Obscura is a beloved crowd-sourced website — set to become a book this fall — that seeks to be your “definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places.” Those with a taste for the absurd will be captivated by the strange treasures contained in this book. Even among the most well-traveled, few can claim to have visited (or even heard of) entries like the poison garden of Alnwick, created by the Duchess of Northumberland in 2005 to display poisonous or narcotic flora; the Kan'ei-ji Temple, containing a memorial to slain insects; or the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which is the largest hospital in the world for the United Arab Emirates’ beloved national bird. (Available Sept. 20)
Choice Quote: “To enter the poison garden of Alnwick, you must first fetch a guide to unlock the black iron gates, which are decorated with a white skull and crossbones and a worrying message: ‘These plants can kill.’”
By Patrick Leigh Fermor
The last in a three-book series chronicling Patrick Leigh Fermor’s year-long trek from Holland to Constantinople on foot, The Broken Road follows his journey through Bulgaria, Romania and Greece in 1934. Fermor was 18 when he began his walk and was still working on final book of the trilogy when he died in 2011 at age 96 (his literary executors helped put the final book together). Whether unwittingly befriending prostitutes, spending the night in a shepherd’s hut or simply describing a flock of storks passing over mountains, this book emphasizes the innocence and wonder of a youth in simpler times while offering the gravitas of wisdom from an older man.
Choice Quote: “Rough-hewn and tough, shod and swaddled in the same cowhide footgear as the Rumanians, they padded the dusty cobbles like bears.”
By Ian Fleming
Yes, that Ian Fleming. First published in 1963, this book chronicles the James Bond creator’s jet-setting assignment from the Sunday Times to visit 14 cities around the world (including a European road trip in his Thunderbird convertible) and report back. One of two nonfiction works, these fascinating tales, recounted with signature intrigue, wit and a hint of danger, stand the test of time and provide Bond enthusiasts with insight into Fleming’s settings and character choices.
Choice Quote: “If you write thrillers, people think that you must live a thrilling life and enjoy doing thrilling things. Starting with these false assumptions, the Editorial Board of the Sunday Times repeatedly urged me to do something exciting and write about it and, at the end of October 1959, they came up with the idea that I should make a round-trip of the most exciting cities of the world and describe them in beautiful, beautiful prose. This could be accomplished, they said, within a month.”