My Favorite Books About Travel

I probably read about 40-50 books a year, and over the years I've read several travel stories that have inspired me. Here is a list of my current favorites. 

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle

I first read French Lessons when I was in my teens shortly after returning from my first trip to France. If I wasn't already in love with French culture at that point, then this book solidified it. You might know of Peter Mayle from the Toujours Provence fame. He's British, but has a deep appreciation for all things French, most notably the food. Each chapter takes you to a different festival or culinary experience around the country, from "The Mass of the Truffle" to "The Fair of the Frog" and the "The Fair of the Snail". His descriptions are both humorous and mouth-watering as he dines on decadent cheeses and sips rich Burgundy wines. Best of all, there's contact information for each restaurant and fair in the last chapter of the book so you can take a culinary tour of France yourself. 

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

I grew to enjoy Bryson's writing when I read The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way in grad school. His style is both humorous and informative. I picked up Neither Here Nor There shortly after we decided to move to Germany. While his experiences are heavily tinged with nostalgia for his backpacking days as a young adult in the early '70s, his encounters are amusing and worth the read. Beware of some of his more obvious stereotypes, but trust him when he says traveling by train is the way to go whenever possible. 

Shakespeare & Company by Sylvia Beach

I absolutely loved this memoir from Sylvia Beach on her time with the writers of the Lost Generation at her Left Bank bookstore in Paris. Her stories about Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Stein, and others were fascinating, and I felt I got to know the writers so much better. This is a must for any lover of the Lost Generation.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's memoir of his time in 1920s Paris overlaps nicely with Beach's Shakespeare & Company. He reveals himself to be not only the ultra-masculine character that often appears in his stories, but also someone who cared very deeply for his young wife and child. I was amused by his escapades with Fitzgerald and his complex relationship with Gertrude Stein, and find myself still haunted by the image of Hemingway bent over a manuscript in a Paris café. Another must for lovers of the Lost Generation.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Though I loved Nineteen Eighty-Four in high school, I appreciated George Orwell much more as a writer after reading Down and Out in Paris and London. He looks at the less romantic side of travel and, more specifically, how our prejudices when it comes to poverty affect both our understanding of the problem and our policies towards the poor. I especially liked his chapters on his work in Paris's restaurants as his recount reminded me of my days waiting tables (yes, it really is like that!). 


Honorable mention: 

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke -- This was a fun read about Paul West's  attempts to establish a British-style tea room in Paris. While I found Paul's character to be somewhat sexist at times in his description of women and dating, I did enjoy the commentary on the clash between British and French business, food, and language. This is a good "beach read".

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert -- There were parts of this memoir that I liked, including her food descriptions in Italy, but others that annoyed me. While it would not be my first choice for a food-related read, many people will find her journey worthwhile. 

Note that this list is by no means complete. As I keep reading, I'm sure I'll find more favorites to add.

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