Meredith Cummings : Travel the world — through books

Book Reviews
Meredith Cummings : Travel the world — through books

This review was first published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Aug. 27, 2023

Summer is waning but adventure doesn’t have to. Check out these travel books before closing out summer with one last escapade.

“Best American Travel Writing 2021,” edited by Padma Lakshmi and Jason Wilson (Mariner Books, $16.99)

Anthologies aren’t always the best way to a great read but this 22nd book in the series is packed with stories from around the globe that only each writer can tell. Many of the essays included are pandemic-related but, for those weary of pandemic tales, they remind us to relish the moment, and these stories.

“Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other” by Sam Heughan, Graham McTavish, and Charlotte Reather with a foreword by Diana Gabaldon (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, $26.99)

The intergenerational stars of the TV show “Outlander” romp, drink and eat their way through their homeland of Scotland. They explore history and feuding, as well as music, poetry and art, on an assortment of vehicles, from a camper van to boats, kayaks, bicycles and motorbikes. Readers meet a bevy of Highland characters who are hard to forget, and will feel as exhilarated and exhausted as if they had taken this journey, too.

“Walking with Sam: A Father, a Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain” by Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central Publishing, $28)

Any of Andrew McCarthy’s travel writings are worth the investment, yet his latest memoir marks the passing of time and has a tenderness to it that feels new, probably because his son is with him. As they traverse Spain’s Camino De Santiago, they communicate more than they have in a cellphone-driven world, and he watches his son become freer on expansive land. For many parents, the car is sacred space to hear about kids’ lives, but this is a next-level way to hem in offspring. Bonus: on the audiobook, the author’s son Sam reads with him so readers can experience the teen eye rolls along with Mr. McCarthy.

“Stalking Shakespeare: A Memoir of Madness, Murder, and My Search for the Poet Beneath the Paint” by Lee Durkee (Scribner, $28)

This book travels and time travels in this too-unconventional-to-be-real tale of Lee Durkee, from Mississippi, who sets out to find a true portrait of Shakespeare when he realizes that no one really knows what he looked like. After a divorce (and much drinking, which continues throughout), he shelters in Vermont where he doggedly pursues the bard’s likeness. Why has Shakespeare gotten so much more attractive in paintings over time?

“The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science” by Richard Holmes (Pantheon, $22)

While not purely a travel book, this prize-winning 2009 book will take readers around the world on adventures that, often, humans would now be unable to have due to the changing landscape and times. Sitting at the intersection of science and art, every chapter is a travel crusade that will delight. This is a modern-day masterpiece.

“World Travel: An irreverent guide” by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever (Ecco, $40)

He never set out to write a travel guide, but the late Anthony Bourdain accomplished enough to write one through his various culinary escapades. “I tell you how the places make me feel,” wrote Mr. Bourdain in this 2021 book about the world as he saw it on his travels. Published posthumously and just as the world began to emerge from a pandemic, assorted essays by his friends and family are additional reasons to read.

“Where the Waves Turn Back” by Tyson Motsenbocker (Worthy Books, $27)

After the death of his mother, Tyson Motsenbocker was intrigued by some ideas of St. Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan monk who believed that suffering and pain were the keys to enlightenment. Mr. Motsenbocker sets out to walk from San Diego to San Francisco, along the El Camino Real. Funny and sad, he followed his mother’s wish: “When I’m gone, I want you to do something irresponsible.” As she lay dying, when he told her his plan, her response was, “Just remember, you could walk all that way without doing anything at all.” This book pleasingly proves her wrong.

Meredith Cummings is a freelance journalist and teaching assistant professor of journalism at Lehigh University.

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