Elsewhere,by Rosita Boland
Doubleday Ireland, £8.99
It’s not entirely a travelogue nor is it a memoir. Rather, it’s the point where the two intersect, and that for me is the essence of enlightening travel. How exactly does meeting new people and seeing new places affect you, change your attitudes and increase your self-knowledge? Sometimes it’s faraway and exotic travel (in New Zealand: “it fascinated me that people had Antarctica as a word in their ordinary, everyday lexicon.”) and sometimes it’s time spent for work in a city nearer home. Boland is an observant and thoughtful traveller, who is also grateful for and aware of what her own “home roots” have given her.
Over several years as an enthusiastic amateur traveller, I’ve tried to keep a journal of experiences and journeys. Boland’s determination to write diaries and notes, instead of taking hundreds of photographs, resonates with me. Do I ever look back at old holiday photos? Rarely. But I get pleasure from re-reading my own notebooks. I’d say to anyone who likes to travel, please read this book and start “noticing” your own journeys – even if you can’t be persuaded to put down your phone and write notes!
Chosen by Linda Murray, owner, Books Paper Scissors, Belfast
Between Stone and Sky,by Whitney Brown
This beautiful memoir really got under my skin. At 26, Brown is studying for an MA in the US and thinks her career path is mapped out – until chance brings drystone waller “Jack” from Wales to Washington DC. Fascinated by his craft, she accepts an invitation to visit his home in Wales. Mere months later, she is working alongside him. Delighting in the physicality of the job and the shifting beauty of the Welsh countryside, Brown discovers that she doesn’t need to be on native soil to feel a sense of homecoming. She deftly sketches the local topography by listing the gear changes required to navigate its valleys, revels in the local language and discovers the joy of elevenses. Her quest to build a life from her craft takes her to Italy, North Carolina, Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, and back to rural Wales. Her evocation of place is pitch-perfect, from mist-shrouded hillsides to the “gorgeous throb” of the thick summer air of North Carolina. This is a tale of finding harmony between body and soul, between the heft of stone, the inspiration of good friends and the joy of travel.
Jenny Tattersall, bookseller, Cogito Books, Hexham
Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers, by Peter Fiennes
Jostling to the front of a rather crowded pack of recent nature writers, Fiennes’ 2017 Oak and Ash and Thorn was justly revered for its lyrical prose and literary bedrock. Honing his easy-going and often witty style in this new book, Fiennes takes us on journeys of writers from 12th-century cleric Giraldus Cambrensis to Beryl Bainbridge, by way of Enid Blyton and Charles Dickens.
Though literary travelogues aren’t a wholly novel genre, there’s an infectious enthusiasm and self-deprecating authority to Fiennes’s insights and he’s a most agreeable companion. Recounting a visit to a Welsh barber, he talks of “my scalp being kneaded and delicately teased by an early middle-aged, handsomely coiffed blond man from Neath”. Likewise, there’s a neat line about the invention of the footnote, in a footnote. There will be many nature titles vying for a place on Christmas lists this year, and no doubt a cornucopia of literary anthologies and travelogues to boot. This one should be towards the top.
Tim Batcup, owner, Cover to Cover, Mumbles, Swansea
Travellers in the Third Reich: the Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People, by Julia Boyd
Elliott & Thompson, £10.99
In the 1930s, Germany was the most popular tourist destination in Europe. Yet few travel books were written about it at the time. Julia Boyd has tracked down those accounts and, together with descriptions from private letters and diaries and from public archives, produced a fresh view of between- the-wars Germany. This is land of friendly people, beautiful countryside, vineyards, forests, medieval villages and impressive culture. A female journalist notes how a woman could do what she liked in Weimar Germany. A New Zealand Rhodes Scholar writes of “the emergence of a new type of person, sunburnt, wearing sensible clothes and of splendid physique”. Other accounts, especially those from journalists, politicians and diplomats, convey a sense of unease, of menace. Chilling stuff. This book will earn a permanent place on people’s bookshelves, rather than being shipped out to a charity shop to make room for next year’s batch. The hardback, already out of print, is becoming scarce with secondhand copies for sale on Amazon at almost twice the original price.
Evelyn Westwood, co-owner, Westwood Books, Sedbergh, Cumbria
Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, by Madeleine Bunting
The first thing to say, and this is important in the book world, is that it has a terrific cover. The second is that old classic of it just being “a good read”. Bunting writes evocatively about the Hebrides and, for the most part, gets the details and description right. The best thing about it is that it made me want to revisit the islands I know, as well as visit the ones I haven’t been to yet. The book has a lovely balance of autobiography, literary references, history, politics, religion and culture. I opened the shop in September 2018 – this is my retirement project – and though we don’t carry many new books (we focus on secondhand), I’ve had to restock this a number of times because it’s so popular.
Ruth Anderson, owner, Well-Read Books of Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway
This Tilting World, by Colette Fellous
Les Fugitives, £13
Translated from French by Sophie Lewis, this beautifully elusive book mixes biography, travel memoir, fiction, essay and journalism to weave a lyrical account of identity and its ambiguity. Fellous’ writing carries an innate intelligence that never feels contrived. With it she observes the rituals and language that fabricate an identity, focusing on what happens when these things dissolve or become fragmented. It is punctuated with photos taken on a phone and infused with poetic descriptions of Tunisia, Paris and Normandy, among other places that the author has passed through and allowed to pass through her. This piece of autofiction has a strange and perfectly balanced duality of softness and seriousness. The text is melancholic and nostalgic, but also urgent and of its time. Perhaps it is the value of living within such paradoxes that I took from this novel, memoir, text – whatever it is.
Callum Churchill, store manager, Stanfords, Bristol
Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands, by Judith Schalansky
My favourite travel book is As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee. It’s beautifully written and filled with adventure and hope, though Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes is also high on my list. His language is surprisingly modern for a Victorian and we discover he invented the sleeping bag! I know a lot of the travel writing stuff I like is rather old, so how about, for gift-giving, Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky. It’s a gorgeous wee book and the perfect thing to browse through in a spare hour.
Tom Hodges, owner, Typewronger Books, Edinburgh
Waymaking: An Anthology of Women’s Adventure Writing, Poetry and Art, edited by Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe and Camilla Barnard
Vertebrate Publishing, £17.99
This is a collection of musings, poems and illustrations from a wide range of women worldwide, all of whom share a great passion for the outdoors, adventure and the wild. Their pieces will transport you on incredible journeys from the majesty of the Cairngorms through to the glacial domes of southern Chile, from capturing underwater photographs in Fiji to shivering through a blizzard in Canada’s Baffin Island. These amazing, intrepid women have captured the beauties of our world through their pens, brushes and lenses. The elegantly designed book includes both colour and black-and-white artwork to accompany the text. Enlightening and hugely inspirational, this is a book to treasure.
Cate Simmons, bookseller, News from Nowhere, Liverpool
Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country, by Edward Parnell
William Collins, £9.99
After a family tragedy, this author turned for comfort to British literature, particularly literature that involved ghost stories. This inspired him to travel to haunted places mentioned in stories and, in turn, be inspired by them. Ruins, fens, seaside, forests and waters all have mysteries and ghosts. Folklore and natural history come to life as Parnell travels the country in search of the mystery, loneliness and strangeness the British countryside has to offer – if you know where to look. This is a wonderfully evocative book, creating a sense of place and invoking the power of literature and nature.
Adam, bookseller, Hewson Books at The Kew Bookshop, Kew
The World, by Michael Poliza
Michael Poliza’s new book is, for me, this year’s outstanding travel book. Four hundred pages of beautifully detailed photography are an eloquent answer to the notion that the coffee-table book has no place in an Instagram world. The book is physically huge, and the photography – of landscapes, people and animals – is so good that the effect is truly immersive. The sense is always of a traveller making personal discoveries – a beach where swimmers share the pristine water with sharks, or a stunning azure ice cave. Manmade vistas and patterns attract Poliza too – in his hands a car park becomes a beautiful pattern, and a ring of Vietnamese fishing boats exquisite. Poliza, who made his name photographing Africa, has created a dazzling testament to a disappearing world. At £225 for a limited edition, £265 signed, The World is not cheap – but it is very special indeed.
Brett Wolstencroft, manager, Daunt Books, London