Penguin Travel Library and other literary travel books

Heh. Spent the entire long weekend outside with my kids on the beach/woods/hills. First warm sunny weekend of the year and it was a holiday on Monday.

Re: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. That is a very good book. I bought a copy in the bookshop of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay in 1990 and read it on the train from Bombay to Calcutta. It was later stolen from an autorickshaw in Madras.
Great story about your copy of Short Walk! I will start a thread about stories of lost books, quoting your account to kick things off!

Here's another Penguin Travel Library offering, Blind White Fish in Persia:

And here's one of interest --

I've had my hands on an edition of this book and must have read some of it. Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps is a well-known account of Liberia in the 1930s. He mentions a companion but keeps her well in the background. The above book, Too Late to Turn Back, is his cousin's own account.

Around 1989/90, the Penguin Travel Library cover design changed. Here's Borderlines, one I don't remember having seen:

As I don't intend to get caught up in collector-mania, I'm not going to worry about tracing all the variations in design, etc. However, I'm hoping that these entries will be helpful to online searchers looking for a list of the series.

By the time they got to around 1992 (?), they seem to have dropped the Penguin Travel Library strip along the bottom of the front cover, although this book still appeared on a Google search:

I looked over an earlier book by Mary Morris, Nothing to Declare, and, to me, it appeared to be a sort of hybrid of travelogue and musing about being a woman, about an affair that didn't come off, etc.

Not seen -- Stephen Pern's Great Divide.
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Here's another late Travel Library entry:

Nice subtitle there: The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut.

By the way, Penguin has a Great Journeys series --

1. Herodotus: Snakes with Wings and Gold-Digging Ants 2. Masudi: From the Meadows of Gold 3. Marco Polo: The Customs of the Kingdoms of India 4. Cabeza de Vaca: The Shipwrecked Men 5. William Dampier: Piracy, Turtles and Flying Foxes 6. Mary Wortley Montagu: Life on the Golden Horn 7. JamesCook: Hunt for the Southern Continent 8. Olaudah Equiano: Sold as a Slave 9. Alexander von Humboldt: Jaguars and Electric Eels 10. Sir Richard Burton: To the Holy Shrines 11. Walter Henry Bates: In the Heart of the Amazon Forest 12. Alfred Russel Wallace: Borneo, Celebes, Aru 13. Mark Twain: Can-cans, Cats and Cities of Ash 14. Isabella Bird: Adventures in the Rocky Mountains 15. Anton Chekhov: A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire 16. Mary Kingsley: The Congo and the Cameroons 17. Ernest Shackleton: Escape from the Antartic 18. George Orwell: Fighting in Spain 19. Wilfred Thesiger: Across the Empty Quarter 20. Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Cobra's Heart

I have one of these, the Chekhov. It is a very short book, and I think most or all of the others are too; often, at least, they are excerpts from longer books. You can get Chekhov about his uncomfortable journey across Russia to Sakhalin Island in the selection of letters edited by the famous liar Lillian Hellman.
One can read the "Second Nightmare" in Evelyn Waugh's Remote People (also known as They Were Still Dancing).

This portion of the book concerns Waugh's journey in the Belgian Congo in the 1930s. He had a run-around experience: get a doctor's certificate before he can board a boat for the next stage of his journey. On the water a storm arises and everyone has a miserable night. Waugh was uncomfortable and sometimes terribly bored. ...Then one can read Tim Butcher's Blood River, about the Democratic Republic of Congo circa 2004. Except for the bush fecundity, it may almost suggest Cormac McCarthy's The Road. (There's another fictional "road trip" if you like.) Dereliction, rust, ashes, human bones, and cannibalism.
Newby's Last Grain Race came in the mail today:

Seems it's been around a while in Penguins:
Fictional travel books

I am jamming a bit here, so my construction may be shaky.

Last Letters from Hav Jan Morris

Jan Morris is an interesting writer, who has produced a respectable body of genuine travel and historical writing. This is an account of a fictional penninsula in the Eastern Mediterranean, somewhat cut-off and neglected, with a cosmopolitan history and a varied and urbane population. It is written as fact, and is clever, erudite (in terms of European history and style) and seductive. Fantasy as reality.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places Alberto Manguel

Another fascinating writer. This is not simply a list of fantasy worlds etc. It is written like a classical gazetteer from an old Baedecker guide.

The Ascent of the Rum Doodle WE Bowman

This is a parody of the breathless style of writing found in early 20th century accounts of mountaineering expeditions to the Himalayas etc. In which muscular noble and extremely stupid Christian types conquer the Rum Doodle mountain, completely oblivious of what is going on around them, especially the fact that their swarthy primitive little porters are actually far more able and clever than them and get to the top first.
There used to be a very good bar in Kathmandu called the Rum Doodle, but that is another story...

Molvania (a land untroubled by modern dentistry) Gleisner, Cilauro, and Sitch

A parody of modern Lonely Planet/Rough Guide guidebooks, ostensibly about a small remote Eastern European country, post USSR (think Moldova.) Resonably funny. Hit the Christmas bookstands a few years ago.
Another Newby arrived today: dedicated to the peoples of Siberia, who have to live there.

Received today & have begin to read Newby's Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.
Today's mail brought Ronald Wright's Penguin Travel Library book about Peru, Cut Stones and Crossroads.

Reading truly great works of imaginary world fiction, such as The Lord of the Rings or the Gormenghast books, will, I think, enhance one's enjoyment of good real-world travel writing, and vice versa. But a settled fondness for good travel writing probably tends to work against taking an interest in the cranked-out imaginary-world genre. Why plod through uninspired pages about imaginary empires when one can read engaging first-person true narratives of interesting encounters and historical anecdotes and reflections?

Also -- Aspects of Provence confirmed as a Penguin Travel Library item:

(As I said, I am hoping that people researching the PTL will find these pages helpful.)
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Good to find this thread -- for years I read much travel fiction uncritically until I found myself reading Ryszard Kapuscinski's Another Day of Life about Luanda, Angola, as I was myself sitting in downtown Luanda. He was making up stuff and that really shocked me -- later Kapuscinki's strange foibles were exposed in UK media and I understood he was something of a compulsive fabulist, but at the time it startled me, I wondered if he had mixed up his cities. He had assumed nobody from Luanda would be reading him because he was writing for readers who had never been to Africa. That was the guiding supposition behind many older travel writers, as Paul Theroux makes clear in his Travel Between the Wars.

Other travel writers are painstaking about getting it right -- Charles Nicholl's biography that is also a travel journey of literary detection, Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 1880-91. And William Dalrymple on India of course.

Another personal favourite is Sybille Bedford's 1930s' A Visit to Don Otavio: A Travellers Tale from Mexico
Re: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. That is a very good book. I bought a copy in the bookshop of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay in 1990 and read it on the train from Bombay to Calcutta. It was later stolen from an autorickshaw in Madras.

I'm just about finished with a first reading. Excellent stuff! You should lay hands on another copy and see how well you like it now.
Good to find this thread

Welcome! Tell us more about travel writing that you like. I did wonder if you meant Paul Fussell's Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars or one of Theroux's books -- but with a different title. At any rate I didn't find the book you mentioned, but maybe I didn't look hard enough.
Kapuscinski is a particular favourite of mine. Brilliant prose, even if his posthumous assessment has been controversial. I first came across him in 1980s Granta, and have collected his stuff ever since. For years he was the lone foreign correspondent for the Polish state news agency (and, as it turns out, he was also a spy.)
He is crossover Travel Writing-Reportage, and I have been trying to work out if there is any genuine difference between the two genres. Kapuscinski sort of defined his own genre of magic journalism.
Nonetheless, I really like The Soccer War, The Emperor (about the fall of Haile Selassie), and Imperium (about Russia, with the first part about growing up under Red Army occupation in the 1930s.)
Sam Pickering, in a piece on Eric Newby, in Sewanee Review Summer 2007:

"At their best travel books provide respite, enabling readers to escape the unnecessary people -- that is, celebrities and their hangers-on, the sort of folks who appear in glossy magazines such as Vanity Fair."


"Travel writing is, as the traveler Tom Bissell has put it, 'of any genre of nonfiction save memoir, the most similar to fiction.' Because they don't belong, travelers get things wrong, occasionally on purpose."

"Probably, any contemporary American who wandered the nation and reported what he actually saw and heard would be pilloried by the press and then, after being convicted by hearsay, banished to a Guantanamo Bay in the stuff back of the bookstore."

"...the cult of optimism so prevalent in America narrows life, taints observation, and inexorably fosters messianic delusions, making acceptance or celebration of the present impossibly if not sinful -- not the right chemistry to send Americans abroad as travel writers."
Speaking of Newby, I just learned that his Love and War in the Apennines was in the Penguin Travel Library.
How about pre-20th century travel writing?

Here are some 19th-century travel books that seemed to me to remain more than just readable --

Parkman's Oregon Trail (lively -- excellent)
Thoreau's The Maine Woods (also his Cape Cod, which didn't seem to be as good)
William Morris's excellent Journals from Iceland (get the Praeger reprint; there was a paperback edition in the 1990s or so that was criticized in the Times Literary Supplement, although it might be good enough if you have no choice)
Kennan's Tent Life in Siberia (enjoyed it very much)
Mrs. Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans (reputedly better than Dickens's American Notes, which I haven't read; both described the USA before the Civil War)
Alexander Kinglake's Eothen (about the Holy Land; once quite a well-known book)
Lord Dufferin's Letters from High Latitudes (Iceland, Jan Mayen Island, Norway, Denmark)
Athelstan Riley's Athos: The Mountain of the Monks (about the monastic republic in Greece; I got this 1887 book on interlibrary loan and photocopied the whole thing, including an inscription by the author)
Chekhov's letters about his journey across Siberia to Sakhalin Island as edited in Hellman's selection; really good
William Palmer's ecclesiastical account of Russia
Nathaniel Hawthorne's English Notebooks also contain many pages about his travels in Scotland. Some readers will want to skip some of his descriptions of churches and cathedrals. I haven't read the travelogue he wrote for the public, Our Old Home. His American Notebooks contain many pages about poking around corners of Massachusetts, and I think some of his most enjoyable writing is to be found in this book. There's a side to him you would hardly have suspected if you have read only The Scarlet Letter and a few of his somber short stories.

I read about 2/3 of A Personal Narrative of a Journey Through Norway, Part of Sweden, and the Islands and States of Denmark by "Derwent Conway" (H. D. Inglis), from 1829 -- got this on interlibrary loan, years ago. I've read about 2/3 of George "Gypsy" Borrow's Wild Wales. And I've read some of Robert Louis Stevenson's account of travels by ship to, and then by train across, America, but so far have been just a little disappointed; I think it will get better. The edition I have is From Scotland to Silverado, including The Amateur Emigrant and The Silverado Squatters. Right now, though, I'm reading Thoreau's Yankee in Canada -- I'm putting it in bold type as if it were a book, since it's about a hundred pages, but it is just one item in a book called Excursions. Also on hand is the Russian novelist Goncharov's around-the-world voyage, The Frigate Pallada. A review said: "After his novel Oblomov brought him fame, Goncharov was invited by the czarist government to join in a globe-girdling voyage, the aim of which was to open Japan to Russian trading. This 752-page log of his expedition on the three-masted schooner Pallada is travel writing in the grand tradition, mingling close-up observation, adventure and history. Strategically, the voyage was a failure. The Russians were first rebuffed, later treated more cordially after Commodore Perry's U.S. mission had softened the Japanese. But the Crimean War broke out and Goncharov was abandoned in remotest Siberia, to make his way back home on his own. Presented here in its first complete English translation, the travelogue records his experiences in South Africa where tensions between Dutch, English and blacks simmered; a stopover in England, where he found life too mechanical; firsthand impressions of British colonialism in Shanghai, Singapore's seedy opium dens, drinking wine on Madeira, much else. Goncharov's gift as a master stylist comes through in translation."

Twain wrote some travelogues that I haven't read but that are still loved.

By the way, Rider Haggard, author of She and King Solomon's Mines and lots of less well-known adventure stories, wrote a travel book about Egypt. I haven't read it. It's funny to think that Haggard continued to publish throughout the 1920s, so while we think of him as a Victorian, he was producing new fiction at the same time as Hemingway and Fitzgerald: you could have read The Sun Also Rises when it came out in 1926, and the new "Allan Quatermain" tale, The Treasure of the Lake, the same year.
Adding to #54 above -- I think an attraction of travel writing is that the narrayors get away from their stuff. We have so much, most of us, and sometimes probably wonder if we might manage without almost all of it.

I knew a man, a refugee,
Survival was his art
All that he found valuable
He carried in his heart

--Sam Phillips
Pre 20th Century. Some pretty seminal texts. Some already mentioned earlier in this thread.

I have Wild Wales, but since I live there already I haven't done more than flick through it.

I only know of RL Stevensons travel writing from Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, which I haven't read, but about which my father is enthusiastic.

On my shelf is a heavy tome, published 1889, as yet unread, The Last Voyage of Lady Brassey 1886-87. This is about a voyage around India and Australia on the Yacht Sunbeam. Lots of engravings. The author died of malaria in Mauritius on the way home.

I have also been perusing an 1854 edition of Peter Parley's Tales of Asia, Africa, America, & Oceania. This is a dreadful but amusing piece of old tripe. Peter Parley's books were educational bessellers in their day. This is full of lurid tales of savages, darkies, Hindoos, Mohamedans, etc, their terrible habits, and how lucky they are to be civilised by good Christian white people. A bit dated from an educational persective.
The opening paragraphs of "Count Magnus" by M. R. James:

By what means the papers out of which I have made a connected story came into my hands is the last point which the reader will learn from these pages. But it is necessary to prefix to my extracts from them a statement of the form in which I possess them.

They consist, then, partly of a series of collections for a book of travels, such a volume as was a common product of the forties and fifties [i.e. 1840s-50s]. Horace Marryat's Journal of a Residence in Jutland and the Danish Isles is a fair specimen of the class to which I allude. These books usually treated of some unknown district on the Continent. They were illustrated with woodcuts or steel plates. They gave details of hotel accommodation and of means of communication, such as we now expect to find in any well-regulated guide-book, and they dealt largely in reported conversations with intelligent foreigners, racy innkeepers, and garrulous peasants. In a word, they were chatty.
Bartram's Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee country, the extensive territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Choctaws from 1791 appealed to Coleridge's imagination. He wrote in a copy: "This is not a Book of Travels, properly speaking; but a series of poems, chiefly descriptive, occasioned by the Objects, which the Traveller observed.--It is a delicious Book; & like all delicious Things, you must take but a little of it at a time." One can savor the deliciousness in a Library of America edition, which I have but haven't read yet.


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