Pandemic Reading: Travel Writing

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It’s week 3 of the social distancing. I am still working, doing what my school calls “Distance learning Delivery”, that is something of a hybrid form of online teaching. I usually drop a recorded power point, or a screencast for my students, together with exercises and check in with them on Thursdays. There have been bumps in the road, but I think all in all it has been working as good as it could have. Still I wish I knew the classes better (I only taught for one week before the school closed its doors!), and it’s not the same. It is a lot of work for everyone involved,  for students, teachers, and of course parents.

Still, there is the time outside of teaching, and while I am busy writing, editing, following the news, trying to get an online workout in (thanks barre3), I also read, and probably more than usual.

Of course, now would be a good time to crack open that Camus book (the Plague) you should have read in college, and I can tell you, you will love it. If I had to make a list of “what to read during dark hours”, he’d be on it. But, I read enough about outbreaks on the news, and need to take my mind off of things. And so, I return to travel literature, a genre by which I have always been fascinated. In days of “don’t leave the house”, reading travelogues fills me with thoughts of “once this is all over”, hopes for the future.

Here are my current favorites:*:

  • Tony Horwitz: Blue Latitudes. Boldly going where James Cook went before. Part biography, part memoir, part soul-searching, Tony Horwitz’s writing is beautiful but often painful to read. Traveling the same route Capitain Cook did 200 years before on the Endeavour, Horwitz tries to not only describe the man, but he also provides us with a picture of the Pacific Islands that not touristy marketing brochure will give you: environmental issues, poverty, health issues- all part of the legacy of colonialism.
  • Cheryl Strayed: Wild. Cheryl Strayed has been Oregon celebrity, long before “Wild” was made into a movie. “Wild” is an account of her hiking the Pacific Crest trail and her own personal healing. I read “Wild” after my surgery, as I was fully immersed in my own messy process of healing.
  • Erika and Klaus Mann: All the way around. The unruly oldest kids of self-appointed center of Germany and super-writer Thomas Mann were writers themselves, but more so, both were adventurers. In 1927 they travelled around the world, drove around recklessly (Erika) consumed a lot of drugs, routinely ran out of money and called mom for more, wrote sharp, poetic, and hilarious observations of their fellow humans.
  • Lawrence Durrell: Prospero’s Cell: A guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Corcyra. When I was 16 or 17, me and two more friends went to the island of Corfu together with a youth group. In preparation I read Durrell, which, to be honest, I only finished upon my return. Even though I was on the island more than 40 years after the writer wrote his book, it took me right back to the windy roads, the age-old cypresses. Yes, of course, his descriptions of the locals may be outdated by now, but his writing is one among the most poetic (without being sappy) ever.
  • Maarten Troost: The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned with Savages.Maarten Troost and his wife moved to the island nation of Kiribati (Tarawa to be specific) in 1996, where she worked to implement health initiatives and generally improve the life of the population. Two years after their return to DC, they moved to Vanuatu. Troost’s observations will rob you of any island romanticism that you’ve had, still you can tell that he has nothing but love and respect for their inhabitants. His self-deprecating humor and and his insightful and often cutting observations on what he calls “the development industry” and the world bank are a treat. I haven’t read book three yet.
  • Judith Schalansky: Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands.A cartographer by trade, Schalansky has collected stories and interesting tid-bits about remote islands she’s encountered in her job. This is a synaesthetic book, the illustrations are as beautiful as the texts.


This is obviously not a comprehensive list, and there are plenty of wonderful travel writers that I left off- so I am excited to hear from readers!

Travel Writin

*most of the links will go to Powell’s bookstore, the last independent bookstore in the US. They are going through a rough time, so if you want to order books, order from them! (They need your business more than amazon does)


  1. Love this roundup! I’ve been reading so much more during isolation, and I can’t wait to dig into some of these.


  2. Love it, too! I’ve been reading a book called “Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide” written by a professor of dance who specializes also in anatomy, geography, geology and other interdisciplinary approaches. I love it! Her name is Andrea Olsen and she writes richly, without pretense and with the vigor and embodiment of a practitioner and not merely a theorist. I highly recommend it!


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