Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vintage Departures

Vintage Books created a series of affordable paper back travel books--some of which have become modern travel classics.  I unintentionally started buying them because the travel topics interested me.  The series contains over 170 books.  Here's my collection:

1.  Iron & Silk, Mark Salzman (1986).  Before China was fully opened and before Peter Hessler wrote his insightful books on China, a young American martial arts student, Mark Salzman, went to live and travel in China.  The result is a series of sketches about his experience.  Salzman's experience is richer for his fluency in Mandarin. Bought used but can't remember where.  Contains a book stamp of the previous owner, Nell P. K. from Ormand Beach, Florida.  

2.  Dazinger's Travels: Beyond Forbidden Frontiers, Nick Danzinger (1987).  In a fine tradition of English intrepid eccentric travelers, Danzinger creates his own epic trip He travels from Turkey to Beijing on foot, donkey, camel or truck disguised as a itinerant Muslim.  Along the way he meets Afghan mujaheddin, Uigers, Tibetan lamas and Chinese Communist Party leaders.  Bought used somewhere.  

3-5.  Tim Cahill.  The NY Times describes him as the "working man's Paul Theroux" (see earlier blog on Theroux, The Lone Traveler).  I have three Cahill books under the Vantage Departure's series by Cahill.  Most titles involve animals attacking him.  The three here are collections of travel incidents--usually comic, bordering on the disastrous.   All bought at the State Department Book Store. 

  • Jaguars Ripped My Flesh (1996).
  • A Wolverine is Eating My Leg (1989).  
  • Pass the Butterworms: Remote Journeys Oddly Rendered (1998).   

6.  In Xanadu: A Quest, William Dalrymple (1990).   Dalrymple is a master story teller of travel.  With Xanadu, he retraces Marco Polo's route starting in Syria to the summer palace of Kubla Kahn.  Along the way, he travels through the valley of the Assassins.  Bought at BJ's Books in Warrenton.  

7.  Video Night in Katmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East, Pico Iyer (1989).  Iyer is one of those travel writers that other travel writers seek out.  This is a series of treks to far flung spots of the Far East with Iyer spotting the beginnings of modern globalization.  Bought used at the State Department Book Store.

8.  Navigations, Ted Kerasote (1989).  Kerasote picks out the wilderness areas of North and South America and heads straight for them.  The book takes you from camping along the Arctic Ocean to climbing the Andes.  No idea where I bought this used book.

9.  From Heaven Lake, Vikram Seth (1987).  A hitch-hiking Odyssey from Nanjing China to Tibet and New Delhi.  Bought used but can't remember where.

10.  Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea (1992).  From an intended adventure to an unintended adventure.  Hansen starts a sailing trip with friends through the Red Sea and ends up stranded in Yemen.  Bought used somewhere.

11.  Fool's Paradise, Dave Walker (1988).  Walker relocates to Saudi Arabia to teach English.  His restlessness caries him to a corner of Saudi Arabia in search of a mythic "happy Arabia."  Bought used somewhere.  

For the full list of Vintage Departures, see

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ship's Log

Ship's logs began as a way for captains to record the distances and directions they traveled. It didn't take long for captains and ordinary sailors to keep their own journals describing their adventures. Christopher Columbus's log book is lost to history but would certainly be priceless today. Captain Cook's log of the Endeavor was must reading in England at the end of the Eighteenth Century. Ship journals were, for me, the perfect intersection between travel and fascination with the sea. Here's a very miscellaneous list.

1. The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor from the year 1775 to 1841 (1988). Nagle joined the British Navy at the time of the American Revolution and served in American waters, later fought with Commodore Nelson's fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. His adventures took him to India, China and Australia. He died peacefully at the age of 80 in Canton, Ohio. Excellent color plates illustrating the era Nagle served. Bought used but can't remember where. 

2. The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville: 1819 - 1891, Jay Leyda (1951). Herman Melville's biography represented in a logbook form. Dense and detailed. Haven't read this one yet but it may be for Melville fanatics. Bought used somewhere. 

3. Sailing alone around the world: And Voyage of the Liberdade (The Mariners library) byJoshua Slocum Hart-Davis (1967). Slocum was the first person to single-handedly sail around the world. Based on his journal. Bought used at an Alexandria, Virginia Library book sale. 

4. New Worlds Ahead: Firsthand Accounts of English Voyages,
edited by John Hampden (1968).
Fourteen samples of the great
and lesser know voyages. Includes excerpts from Sebastion Cabot, Sir Francis Drake, WIlliam Bradford to anonymous accounts of voyages to tidewater Virginia. Bought used at the State
Department Bookstore. 

5. The Log of the Centurian, Leo Heaps (1973).   Based on the Captain Philip Saumarez on board the HMS Centurian, Lord Anson's flagship during his circumnavigation 1740-44. A combination military expedition and raid on Spanish ships in the Pacific, Saumarez recorded this adventurous voyage. Color plates and heavy stock paper make it a peac of art. Bought used at the Raven Book Store, Amherst, MA.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Island Life

Islands set the stage for heaven or hell and anything in between.  A Hawaiian paradise or the desert island of Robinson Crusoe.  A Jimmy Buffet-hipster way of life or the prison fortress of Alcatraz.  Islands have been manageable microcosm for authors through the ages--Shakespeare created Prospero's Island for the Tempest, Homer stranded Odysseus on an island as a prisoner of Calypso.

My experience with islands started as a kid traveling to the islands of the Great Lakes.  A thirty minute boat ride from my hometown was Kelly's Island Put-in-Bay the next stop.  On Michigan's Mackinac Island, as soon as you set foot on the island, it seemed to be in separate world with its own rules.  Mackinac had no cars--only horses, which reinforced the feeling.  My daughter began to walk on Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan.  More recently, I traveled with my father to the island paradise of Bikini in the western Pacific.  He was stationed there as a 19-year-old Navy Corpsman as part of Operation Crossroads--the detonation of two atomic bombs.  Paradise was blown up 60 years ago but in 2006 seemed to be returning back to Paradise.

Here's a very eclectic and random set of some island books on my shelf.

1.  The Arch of Kerguelen: Voyage to the Islands of Destination, Jean-Paul Kaufmann (1993).   One of the most desolate collections of islands on the planet.  Accessible only by ship, it lies in the sub-arctic zone of the Indian Ocean.  I bought the book wanting to know who lives in such a place and what could they possibly do there.   Bought new.

2.  The Emperor's Last Island: A Journey to St. Helena, Julia Blackburn (1991).  St. Helena is considered one of the most desolate places anywhere in the world.  Following his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was imprisoned here the last six years of his life.  Bought used at BJ's Books in Warrenton, VA.

3.  Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World, Charles Fergus.  Fergus fixed up a an abandoned farmhouse on the edge of a lava field in Iceland.  He and his family spent a summer there living under the most Spartan conditions without running water or electricity.  Bought used at State Department Bookstore.

4.  Here on the Island: Being an Account of a Way of Life Several Miles Off the Coast of Maine, Charles Pratt (1972).  A beautifully written book with striking photos taken by Pratt, a professional photographer.  Pratt details the folkways of the hardy inhabitants who have lived in Maine's coastal islands since the 1790s.  Bought as a discard from the Beaver Island Library, Michigan (really).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Lands of Charm and Cruelty" - Southeast Asia*

One of the joys of browsing in bookshops is that you discover interests you didn't know you had.  I didn't know I had an interest in Southeast Asia until I saw a clump of books in a used bookshop in Seattle.  It sparked an interest and I went on a brief book buying binge with the following results.

1.  Chasing the Dragon: Into the Heart of the Golden Triangle, Christopher Cox (1996).    Cox traveled to the shadowy zone where Burma, Thailand and Laos meet.  An area of drug smuggling, tribes and jungle, Cox reports on a region where few Americans have ventured.  Bought new.

2.  The Forgotten Kingdom, John Murray (1957).  A rare and revealing account of of a largely forgotten kingdom.  Murray's book draws on the life of  a Russian-born Depot Master in the Tibetan province of Nakhi--on the border of China and Tibet.  Great black and white photos showing village markets and the arduous trail on the way to Nakhi.  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.

3.  Tropic Temper: A Memoir of Malaya, James Kirkup (1965).   Account of Malaya by a Englishman who lectured at the University of Kuala Lumpur and traveled the country extensively.  Bought used at a garage sale. 

4.  The Lands of Charm and Cruelty: Travels in Southeast Asia, Stan Sesser (1993).  Sesser travels to Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and Borneo.  Sesser sees Singapore as a mini-capitalist theme park in drastic contrast to the dark and forgotten countries of Laos and Cambodia.  Bought used at the Globe Bookstore in Seattle.   

5.  Burma Road: The Story of the World's Most Romantic Highway, Nicol Smith (1940).  Published at the beginning of WWII, the road had become a high value military asset linking British Burma with China.  The author drove the entire route despite warnings from locals that he'd be washed down in the gorges and attempts by Chinese military authorities to block his way.  Maps of the area in front and back end papers.  Bought used at the Globe Bookstore in Seattle.

6.  Explorers of South-East Asia: Six Lives, Victor King, ed. (1995).  Profile lesser known European explorers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Explorers who penetrated the remote jungles of Borne0, mountain ranges of Laos and Burma and the headwaters of the Mekong River.  Illustrations, sketches, and maps showing the region.  Bought used at Globe Bookstore in Seattle.  

7.  The Menacing Sun, Mona Gardner (1939).    A narrative of travels through pre-WWII Indo-China, Thailand (or as the author calls it, Siam), Malaya, East Indies, and India.  Maps at endpapers.  Black and white pictures.  Inscribed by the author, "Dear Mrs. and Grew (?), I hope you find something in this that you like, Mona Gardner Tait."  Bought used but can't remember where. 

*Title from Stan Sesser's book of the same name.