Surprisingly, non-fiction travel books are not my thing. They're typically frighteningly poor in the writing department and self-absorbed narratives when frankly I care more about the place than the author's personal journey; something I could work at applying to my own writing.
But there are five travel books which left a lasting impression over the years and I consider them some of my favorite non-fiction books. They're mostly funny, focusing on adventure rather than self-discovery.
Into Thin Air
John Krakauer, Outside journalist and author of Into the Wild, intersperses his compelling first-person account of the '96 Everest disaster with the history of western mountaineering in the Himalaya. Controversial as always, Krakauer portrays the people and events as he saw them, leaving behind his journalistic objectivity.
A riveting mix of adventure, morality tale, Lifetime channel drama and history lesson, Krakauer's focus on the minutia not only brings to life the daily happenings of life in the "Death Zone" but humanizes Everest mythology. This was the book that sparked my interest in mountaineering and rock climbing.
Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir
It's hard to resist a book written by a war correspondent of fifty years, once married to Hemingway when they were both spies in China. Martha Gellhorn never fails to speak her mind and turn her vicious wits to Chinese bureaucracy, travel in post-colonial Africa, Hemingway, and mostly herself.
Gellhorn does say some things that will offend modern readers, but her journalistic talent is fierce, and every other female travel writer pales in comparison.
No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late
Ayun Halliday's collection of travel essays was the first travel book by a female writer which didn't make me feel like I was reading Cosmo's guide to finding a man and yourself while living in a foreign country.
Yes, the book is primarily about the author and her experiences, but I connected more with her vignettes on constant diarrhea, stealing leftover food from other people's plates at Oktoberfest, and a penchant for not showering. I cringed at gaffes with foreign dignitaries and I can clearly picture author's mother in her full denim skirt and blouse outfit reporting on the catwalks of Paris.
Definitely, a pick-me-up read for a heavy day of too much thinking.
Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life
Arlene Blum led the first all-female team up Denali and the first American team to the top of Annapurna, and discovered the flammable and carcinogenic properties of a product used on children's pajamas. Oh, and she studied volcanoes. Arlene was a trailblazer in mountaineering and science. Her stories, including the tale of her and her partner hiking through the Swiss Alps with their infant daughter, inspires me to continue on my own adventures, and to realize I'm still not doing enough with each of my days.
A Cook's Tour
Experiencing Bourdain's lecture in San Jose was one of the highlights of 2016. Anthony Bourdain continues to bring his cutting and irreverent banter, East Coast aging hipster jackassery to his performance even after four-plus books and three successful television shows.
A Cook's Tour is the reason I went to Vietnam last year, it's the book that inspires me to write, and one my favorites to recommend. Bourdain went to places I'd never thought about going and wrote on food in such a reverential yet flippant manner, it's hard for me to read anyone else's food writing. Yes, he's a pretentious jerk but that's part of the fun.
What are your favorite travel or adventure books? Why do you like to read about other people's adventures? Do you like to read more about personal journeys or more journalistic tales of other cultures?