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2017's Best Travel Literature So Far

In an attempt to cure a bad case of wanderlust I decided to do some online research and tackle the travel section of my local bookshops to see what, if anything, could sate my daydreaming. At first I just purchased travel books to get to know the lay of the land: Japan, Argentina, Iceland, Germany. Then I started looking at cookbooks, and enjoyed a homemade curry or two. But the wanderlust was unabated.

I read over Mann’s difficult Death in Venice. That did no good. Various Graham Greenes. Patrick Leigh Fermor. More Bruce Chatwin. A book about Aboriginal art. I thought about reading Charley Boorman’s new one but then I stumbled across Fredrik Sjöberg’s seductive book The Fly Trap (2014) which describes the author’s love of the small island he lives on in the Stockholm Archipelago as he spends his days capturing and studying various insects and creepy crawlies. Very simple but very effective. It is a superb read and immediately evoked the summer I visited that exact location. But I needed more—I needed something new and relevant— and hence, this list arose. Think of it as a list to read on your trip or a list to encourage you to take that trip.

The Kingdom of Women

How many times has a person said to you that such and such a book is ‘fascinating’, only for you to read the book and find that it wasn’t so? Well, I’m going to say it one more time: this book is genuinely fascinating. And here’s why. Along the border of China and Tibet there really is a place called the Kingdom of Women and it is one of the very last matriarchal societies on Earth. These are the Mosuo tribe. Women live independently from all menfolk as they wish, with the grandmother fulfilling the role as the head of the family. All the big decisions, anything to do with land, property etc., is up to the woman to decide. The author, once a lawyer, was in need of adventure and ended up living with the Mosuo for seven years, becoming an honourary member.

I told you it was fascinating and I didn’t even explain the incredible concept of a ‘walking marriage’ that the Mosuo live by. You’ll have to buy the book.

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At Home in the World

If you already suffer from wanderlust, this book will tip you right over the edge and set you packing. If you don’t suffer from it, one read and you soon will. And let this be a lesson to all those out there who make excuses to put off their dreams: after four years in the US, Tsh and her husband Kyle were hungering for a new adventure. Despite having three kids all under ten years of age, they planned a nine-month journey from one side of the world to the other. At Home in the World is a warts-and-all chronicle of what it feels like to follow your heart, break away from the 9-to-5, and learn what home truly means.

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All Over the Place

This isn’t a straightforward travel memoir. Instead, it’s Geraldine DeRuiter of "The Everywhereist" blog looking back over the years she spent tagging along on her husband's business trips after losing her job. She details what she learnt by tackling all those issues, great and small, that can face a globetrekker. Wide-eyed and clueless at the start, DeRuiter and her husband learn quickly about the world outside their comfort zone, and how to create a home away from home just about anywhere. It’s a mix of unapologetic personal revelations and weird clumsy adventures all rolled into one. She’s very funny and really, there’s no one quite like her out there. Intrigued yet?

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The Boy Behind the Curtain

Again, not a travel book in the strictest sense, but if there’s a chance for me to include Tim Winton in a list, I’m going to take it. The Boy Behind the Curtain is about life in Western Australia and how the land, the environment and the society there shaped Winton as he grew up. These autobiographical essays are full of wonderful details, brimming with his typical charismatic personality, full of anxiety and pathos, excitement and self-criticism.

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Havana

Before this my only introduction to Havana was through Graham Greene and the sweaty pages of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy. But this must be as close as one gets to the people, the history and the city without being there. You can feel that oven-like heat hitting your face and hear the sounds of motorbikes stretching out behind you. You can just see the peeling paint of a local bar, feel a cold drink in your hand, and hear the fan whirring. Outside, those cobblestones, that humidity again. It’s all here, in listless detail, the ramshackle elegance and charm of Havana. Kurlansky digs in deep to show us the city through the eyes of locals and its famous visitors.

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Bauhaus

The minute I saw this book I didn’t even bother to read the back. I just bought it. It turned out to be a beauty inside and out, from its minimalist neon orange cover, to its clean typography, striking photography and plenty of interesting text. The Bauhaus Travel Book is the clear and comprehensive guide to every Bauhaus-inspired building and location between Weimar, Dessau and Berlin—the Bauhaus Belt, if you will.

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Tied for runner-up are two books with some similarities. Rooms of One’s Own by Adrian Mourby caught my eye immediately; was that a picture of Paul Bowles reclining on the cover? And within the pages of Mourby’s rather detailed book, he delves into the writers and locations that became synonymous with one another: Bowles and Morocco, Isherwood and Berlin, Mann and Venice...Hugo and Guernsey anyone? Insightful and beautifully packaged. The second book is a collection from The New York Times' Footsteps column, which investigates the perhaps lesser-known locations that inspired various writers before they became famous. Fitzgerald, Lovecraft, Ferrante and many others are all included. 

And finally, honourable mentions must go to the exquisite White Sands by Geoff Dyer and the always entertaining Paul Theroux with his book Deep South. Both originally arrived in hardback last year but have arrived in paperback for 2017. 

Shane O’Reilly has lived in Dublin all his life; that’s 34 years of memories and adventures around the city centre. While he watched as his friends emigrated during the recession, he started ... Show More

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