All stories fall into one of seven types. One of these is the voyage. There’s something appealing about books that involve journeys. They mirror the arc of a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Along the way, something new is discovered about the destination or the traveller. They take us through faraway lands, share sights that we may never see. These are ten books about journeys through remote landscapes, across the seas, and some that are closer to home.
Indonesia Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani
There are 6,000 islands that make up Indonesia. It’s a country with huge cultural, religious and geographic diversity. On her year-long island-hopping journey, Elizabeth Pisani visits as many of the islands as she can and shares the history, politics and stories of the places she sees and the people she meets. What makes this book so special is her openness; she surrenders herself to the moment and says yes to everything. Indonesia Etc. is travel writing at its very best.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
In 2013, Raynor Winn received two pieces of bad news, her husband Moth was terminally ill and they were going to lose their farm. Homeless, with no livelihood, the pair started hiking the 630-mile South West Coastal Path, wild camping along the way. Their journey was a struggle, coming to terms with Moth’s illness, living in poverty, walking in bad weather. But The Salt Path is full of joy and humour, a testament to the resilience that can be found in the worst circumstances.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This was one of the first books to spark the hugely popular up-lit trend. Instead of attending his hundredth birthday party, Allan Karlsson decides to go on an adventure. He climbs out of the window of his nursing home and shuffles off. There are two stories in this novel. As his journey gets increasingly dramatic, Allan reminisces about his remarkable life. It’s sweet and funny, and you can never predict what’s going to happen next.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
I read this iconic travel memoir on my own journey around Patagonia. Curled up in a tent near the Torres del Paine, limbs aching after a 4-day hike, it’s one of the best reading experiences I’ve had. The book is made up of vignettes about the people Bruce Chatwin met as he travelled south through remote Patagonia. These are the stories of revolutionaries, outlaws and adventurers. It’s an inspiring journey, full of the history of the region, funny anecdotes and interesting characters.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Novels about mid-life crises are commonplace. Ones with a reclusive genius protagonist who deals with her breakdown by running away to the Antarctic, not so much. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is sharp, funny and satirical. It’s structured like a mystery, is as compulsive as a thriller and you’ll read it laughing out loud, wishing Bernadette was your best friend.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
The premise of this novel sounds dull, but it isn’t, I promise. The Signature of All Things is the story of Alma Whitaker, a nineteenth-century botanist from Philadelphia who has dedicated her life to studying mosses. After her father dies, she embarks on a journey to Tahiti, in search of flora and fauna and love. There’s so much packed into this wonderful book, from the nature of scientific discovery and the existence of God to unrequited love.
Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
The arrival of the cherry blossom is a time of celebration in Japan; they bloom first in the south and the front sweeps northwards. The charming Hokkaido Highway Blues is the story of Will Ferguson’s journey as he follows the blossoms. With interesting observations and humour in the ilk of Bill Bryson, Ferguson hitchhikes his way up the country, exploring places rarely visited by tourists.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath is a portrait of the journey made by many in 1930s America. Faced with drought and economic depression, the Joad family uproot their lives and drive through the dust bowl from Oklahoma to California in search of work and a better life. It’s a novel about endurance and hope, that’s increasingly relevant to modern life.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Go to any hostel anywhere in the world, and it won’t be long before you’ll see someone reading Shantaram. It’s a backpacker classic based on Gregory David Roberts’ almost unbelievable life. A bank robber and heroin addict he escapes from prison in Australia and travels to India and then Afghanistan. That people carry this 900-page novel around with them from place to place tells you something about how gripping it is.
To the River by Olivia Laing
To the River follows Olivia Laing’s journey along the banks of the River Ouse, from source to sea, Haywards Heath to Newhaven, over a week at midsummer. As she walks she explores the river’s history and its connection with literary figures like Virginia Woolf and Kenneth Grahame. For Laing, the walk is a time for solitude and reflection. She’s a warm guide; she gets lost, is nervous around cows, has a slab of emergency cheese in her bag. It’s a gentle, lyrical, beautifully written book.