Writer's Reads: Eight adventures, and some misadventures too

By Stephen Fabes

By Stephen Fabes

For the December 2020 issue of Geographical Magazine, I was asked to recommend eight books, old and new. With their venturesome audience in mind, these are my picks

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Peter Hessler

£12.99 £12.08

Hessler’s sensitive account of his time as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching on the banks of the Yangtze River, is all the more unveiling when he shares his students’ hopes, fears and pointed silences, and even their homework. An exploration of the everyday politics and culture of a place, delicately done, yet riveting too

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Richard Grant

£9.99 £9.29

With his yoga-practicing, liberal girlfriend in tow, Grant moves to a decrepit plantation house in deepest Mississippi, a state that tops league tables for all the wrong reasons. And yet despite signs of social dysfunction all around, he develops an unexpected and requited love for his new home and the endearing quirkiness of his neighbours

Coasting

Jonathan Raban

£12.99 £12.08

Digressing often into memoir, Coasting is an elegant travelogue of a man and his 32-foot ketch, sailing 4000 miles around the coast of Britain (Thatcher’s Britain, that is). Raban’s interests: the swirling sea and the national psyche, combine beautifully with entertaining cameos from Paul Theroux and Phillip Larkin.

Into the Heart of Borneo

Redmond O'Hanlon

£9.99 £9.29

('In Trouble Again', described here and by the same author, is not currently available through Bookshop.org. 'Into the heart of Borneo' is in a similar vein). Some may consign this to the ‘doofus does’ school of travel writing, but when a bumbling naturalist heads into remote Venezuelan Amazonia, with ill-equipped companions, and an awe for all that flies, crawls and blooms, the resulting misadventure is far too funny, fascinating and heart thumping to write off

Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation

Elizabeth Pisani

£9.99 £9.29

Like all the most adept wandering writers, Elizabeth will nose around, undaunted, chatting with anyone willing. This attitude, along with an eye for the absurd, makes this a particularly enjoyable survey of some of the sundry, little-known lands that comprise Indonesia

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road

Kate Harris

£10.99 £10.22

A mix of memoir and adventure – Kate bikes the Silk Road with childhood friend, Mel. There is an intellectual voyage here too, an open-minded meditation on borders, and you can’t help but feel buoyed by her lust for landscape, waywardness and trespass

Interstate: Hitch Hiking Through the State of a Nation

Julian Sayarer

£8.99 £8.36

On an impromptu hitch hike across the USA, heading west, like many before, Julian looks to people to understand a nation, and it’s the outsiders, from anarchists to immigrants, who inform the most. While never doubting America has gotten lost, unfair, even spiteful (the commentary is savagely critical at times) the encounters are beautifully told, and always, a faint sense of hope journeys too

Alan Partridge: Nomad

Alan Partridge

£8.99 £8.36

A send up of all the worst adventurer-tropes, Alan follows in his father’s footsteps, an ‘odyssey’ from his family home in Norwich to the Dungeness ‘A’ Nuclear Reactor in Kent. A brilliant mockery of both travel literature and celebrity tv-travellers, and exceptionally Alan