An effective travel read transports me to exotic locales, compels me to tread the road untrodden, and inspires me to learn about unfamiliar purlieus. Travel writing can tell the tale of an author’s journeys, take place in a single spot, or contain imaginary adventures cast in real settings. Wonderful books such as Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster lay out an itinerary that I long to follow. Others, such as Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson weave a fascinating blend of history and contemporaneous living while telling of exotic, alluring and seemingly unreachable destinations.
Come now and travel with me. And don’t forget your towel.
Paul Bibeau’s Sundays with Vlad : from Pennsylvania to Transylvania, one man’s quest to live in the world of the undead (which, come on, is worth checking out just for the title) is really not a travel book per se, but is a look at vampire culture in the modern world (did you know that there’s a demand for fang dentures?). As Bibeau examines what the well-dressed urban vampire is wearing, he also explores the history of Vlad the Impaler and looks at modern attempts to build a Romanian tourist industry. Now, if you’re anything like me, you might not give a great deal of thought to Romania. For example, my knowledge of the country culminates in this one fact: Romania has ugly postage stamps. Bibeau, however, will make you wonder why you’ve never been there. And on your trip you could visit DraculaLand (if it ever gets built) along with its proposed disco, fake Gothic castle, amusement park, laboratories, torture rooms, vampire den, and (of course) the Institute of Vampirology.
Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt is another travel book that isn’t. In this hard-to-summarize fictional tale, chapters from a newly-discovered gospel are interspersed with the story of a modern-day hunt for this same elusive gospel. Heading the search are an alcoholic Jesuit, a naïve graduate student, a rabbinical scholar, and a large cast of villains. The travel portion of the book comes as the characters move through 17 countries including England, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Israel, and a variety of African locations. The author’s extensive research and attention to detail bring these alluring destinations to life.
If you’d rather see exotic places than read about them, try one of Michael Palin’s fabulous adventures. Whether he’s trying to make it Around the World in 80 days or going from Pole to Pole, Palin’s charming narrative and gentle personality are certain to satisfy and entertain.
Where would you like to take your next journey?