A classic travel book reading list

November 24, 2011

By Nimish Dubey

Ask someone about reading travelogues and it is a fair chance that they will head off and start looking for books by the likes of Mark Shand, Bill Bryson and Sir Ranulph Fiennes. And there is nothing really wrong with it as these are perhaps the masters of modern travel literature. However, before people start off on these, we would request them to try out some of the older masters. No, yawn not at their being mentioned, for these gentlemen and ladies turned out some of the most magnificent travel writing we have ever read, be it cloaked as fiction or written in classic travelogue style. 

Be it the gritty, survival-oriented tale of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, the utterly insane wanderings of Don Quixote by Miguel Cervates or the amazingly futuristic travels of Jules Verne, there is a standard of writing here that is likely to more than match anything that modern travel authors have to offer. Truth be told, we think that the older classic writers are actually much better than the modern ones, simply because their command of the language was markedly superior and because they seemed to be much better narrators than their modern counterparts. As one person put it so aptly, the likes of Twain and Verne were authors who liked to travel, while Shand and Fiennes are travellers who like to write (although Bryson can claim to be exempted from this – the man has some mastery of prose).

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So, if you would take our word for it, we would ask you to check out the following classics from travel literature before you venture into more modern works. You will not regret it, we promise.

1. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervates: A man thinks he is a knight and travels all over Spain, getting pilloried and thumped in equal measure, but sticks to his task. Hilarious, sarcastic and the first travel classic.

2. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne: We reviewed it earlier and still think that the attempt by an English gentleman and his valet to traverse the world in eighty days is the ultimate in travel fiction.

3. Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne: Another Verne classic, this time based on the efforts of three mean to go into the bowels of the earth, in an attempt to find the centre of the planet. Tense, riveting stuff and you will never guess what they find in there!

4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: A man whose voyages takes him to strange places. Sounds simple? Read the book and we are certain you will be riveted.

5. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: A shipwrecked man on a seemingly uninhabited island, trying to eke out a living, even as he explores his whereabouts. An amazing tale.

6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: Two boys decide to run away from home and sail down a river, meeting all sorts of people in a journey rich with excitement. We have not stopped laughing yet.

7. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome: Three men (and a dog) decide to take a break from their routine lives by sailing down the Thames and what follows is perhaps the most hilarious account in travel literature. We defy you to read it without laughing.

8. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne: Another book by Verne, establishing him as the master in the travel literature genre. This time, a hunt for a marine creature that is sinking ships turns into an amazing journey under the sea. Written before the world had seen a submarine. But then, Verne was a genius.

9. Life on the Mississipi by Mark Twain: How on earth did Twain get all those amazing portrayals of life along the Mississipi river? Well, he was a steam boat pilot on it. This is his account of those days and is written with typical warmth, skill and of course, humour.

10. Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson: The man who gave us masterpieces like Treasure Island and Kidnapped loved to travel and this book details his 120 mile hiking trip in France. The route has retraced by millions of his fans and other travellers since, but none has managed to write a book half as brilliant.

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