Best New Travel-Inspiring Books of 2011

Far away places, with strange-sounding names,

Far away over the sea.

Those Far away places with strange-sounding names,

Are calling, calling to me.

Going to China, or maybe Siam.

I want to see for myself

Those far away places I’ve been reading about

In a book that I took from the shelf

(I copied the lyrics from this web page, Dean Martin – FAR AWAY PLACES LYRICS, but I prefer Margaret Whiting’s version on recording. Bing Crosby also sang the song, which was written by Margaret Whiting’s father.)

 If there ever was an appropriate theme song for A Traveler’s Library, this would be the song.  I remember hearing it when I was very young. It always made me feel wistful. Still does. Except now, sitting here at A Traveler’s Library, the words “I want to see for myself, those faraway places I’ve been reading about, in a book that I took from the shelf” take on special meaning.

Here are the books that I took from the shelf last year that made the strongest impression on me–the books that truly made me want to “see for myself.” Since no way did I read all the possible books, these are The Best New Travel Books of 2011 at A Traveler’s Library.

10. The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha (Small town Indiana and a bit of Oregon) When journalism did not suffice to explore her thoughts about the death penalty, Rakha turned to fiction. A beautifully realized novel.

9. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter (Paris) Baxter leads us on walks around Paris, intermingled with his memoirs as an ex-pat who actually leads walks. Great inside stuff on famous writers and others.

8. Revolution by Deb Olin Unferth (Nicaraugua)Achingly honest about the callow but self-assured younger self and her search for a revolution to support. Laughs on every page. I’d like to visit Central America, but not the way she did.

7. Appetite for America by Stephen Fried (C0rrected spelling!) (Western United States) I was fascinated by the detail of 19th century American and the influence of the railroads, built around the biography of hotel and restaurant pioneer, Fred Harvey. Great look at the west, including where to go today to see remnants of the Fred Harvey dynasty.  After reading the book, Ken and I dined at the restored La Posada hotel in Winslow Arizona.

6. The Calligrapher’s Secret by Rafik Schami (Damascus, Syria) Part of my delving into Middle East literature, this one solidified a long-time desire to visit Syria (in more peaceful times). A lovely book.

5.Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare (Albania). It is not easy to make someone want to travel to Albania. The country was isolated from the west and its neighbors for so long that it feels like you would be visiting the Middle Ages.  This book is set in a historic city just at the cusp of the long chain of events that triggered that isolation.  It made me want to see for myself ancient cities of Albania.

4. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (the former Yugoslavia) Although it is not spelled out exactly what country she is talking about, it is probably Serbia. This book has won bushels of awards and deservedly so. The line between fantasy and reality constantly shifts and yet every character and every piece of landscape is believable.

3. Saved by Beauty by Roger Housden. (Iran) Although it does not take much to get me day-dreaming about flying off to a new locale, this book above all others I read last year made me instantly want to see Iran, a country I have only been mildly interested in. His discussion of Persian poetry, set me off in search of Persian poets, and the many contrasting opinions of the people he met amazed me. I love this book.

2. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams (Peru) I’ll probably never get to Machu Picchu, although I’ve always thought it would be mind boggling to stand at the entrance to that great ancient city.  I’ve waited too long, and the altitude causes problems now.  But be prepared, after you read this book, to start planning your extended stay–not just a fly in-fly out visit to Machu Picchu. The book is fascinating history and lots of fun as the author treks in the footsteps of the original “discoverer” of the ruins.

1. The Greater Journey by David McCullough (Paris)  Who could not put this thick tome by the great historian David McCullough at the top of the stack?  Those of you who want their travel books more current, and less fact-filled, may not agree, but I enjoyed every page.  The book put context into so many places that I went skipping blithely by when I was in Paris. Ah, to return for a second chance at awareness.

What was your favorite book of 2011??And what’s YOUR reading/travel theme song?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

36 thoughts on “Best New Travel-Inspiring Books of 2011

  1. So many travel books, not enough time to read them all! They all sound like good reads though. A good excuse to do even less work! ;P

  2. Thanks for sharing! Enjoyed the compilation, especially since we are looking for new travel reads to begin this week. The Tiger’s Wife has been in our want to read lost for a while- now seems like a great time to pick it up!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful blog. I have discovered so many books, places and music from A Traveler’s Library. Happy New Year!

  4. I remember Margaret Whiting and that song! Do you think it’s had a subliminal effect on me all these years? Do you remember the early TV show Margaret and her sister had — I thought they were so glamorous — I must have been about 9 or 10 then. It’s fun for you to remind us! Thanks and happy new year!

  5. you know I’m liklely to say something when you ask about music.

    In My Tribe, by Cathie Ryan, is one of my favorite songs to do with landscape and travel. you may be interested to know that she mentions Kayenta and the Navajo, making connections between first peoples and first generation children of immigrants from Ireland. it’s not exactly about travel, but still there’s connection across distance. it’s on her album Somewhere Along the Road — and that title song is also a very fine travel song.

    another one of my favorites is My Heart’s in the Highlands, especially like the version by the BarraMcNeills from Cape Breton.

    not entering to win the book but best of luck to all who are.

  6. I’ve read quite a few titles on this list- thanks to you and your recommendations. (and of course winning one of them :))

    A Very Happy New Year to you!!!!

  7. I have to admit that I’d never heard the song either, but I love the vision it brought to me. This is a great list. I was fortunate enough to have won Turn Right at Machu Picchu from you and have enjoyed it. I haven’t read any of the other books, so I’m adding them to my list. I love David McCullough’s writing, so that sounds great. I also am eager to read The Most Beautiful Walk in the World. It sounds lovely. Right now, I’m reading The Paris Wife. Have a fabulous New Year!

  8. It’s not necessarily a travel book, but I very much enjoyed The Women by TC Boyle – I love traveling to all the incredible buildings that Frank Lloyd Wright planted across the United States. If only the Tokyo hotel was still standing!

    And I have a few travel theme songs… “American Land” by Bruce Springsteen (from the Seeger Sessions), “America” by Simon & Garfunkel, and “California Zephyr” by Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard.

    1. I didn’t realize you were a FL Wright fan, Casey. Have you been to Scottsdale to see Taliesin West? And have you read Loving Frank? I like your song choices for American road trips!

      1. Vera, I have Loving Frank on my library list – and yep, when you grow up very close to Fallingwater and then go to grad school in Chicago, I don’t think you have a choice but to admire FLW. Have you seen the Fallingwater iPad app?

  9. I use this song for a few of my young vocal students who are almost teens; I remember when I was their age and was curious about the wider world. The melody is easy to learn but the graceful feel of it makes it a good learning song for them that they can relate to. I wish I had time to read all those books – you make them seem so intriguing. I feel I can count on your recommendations.

    1. Janice, you’d be surprised how many books you can read if you read half an hour before you go to sleep each night. I had not thought about the easy rhythm of the song until you mentioned it, but Faraway Places almost has the slosh of waves hitting a ship, doesn’t it?

  10. An interesting mix of books. My favorite book of 2011 was “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. :-)My favorite song for this book…and traveling to France is “La vie en Rose,” Edith Piaf’s signature song. I also like it by Louis Armstrong. My favorite traveling song depends on where I’m going. For NYC, it’s Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Traveling across the U.S., I like “Coming to America” by Neil Diamond, or “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. Whatever sets the mood. I just returned from Italy and loved listening to old Dean Martin songs like “Amore.”

    1. Wow! You’ve given us a whole album of songs to travel by. Good idea! And another interesting book to add to my list, too. Thanks and Happy NewYear, Linda.

  11. Thank you for this wonderful list. I am reading The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik which is taking me to Iran and Germany giving interesting cultural insights. Happy New Year.

  12. An eclectic mix and very interesting. The one that jumped out at me is ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’ by John Baxter.

    I am in the mood to dig deeper into a lovely place, and Paris is that and more.


    Happy New Year!

    1. Fortunate you, so close to Paris and other joys of Europe. We have to think long and hard about the transatlantic trip. I do think you’d love The Most Beautiful Walk.

  13. Amazing! I’ve not read any of these books. I thought I was well acquanted with travel lit. I just finished reading Ox travels which is an incredible anthology from top writers in the U.K.
    Perhaps, that should be on the list! May I humbly suggest that you read my book Lost Angel Walkabout-One Travler’s Tales it made the best armchair travel list in 2010 and 2011.

    1. Linda: I rarely include anthologies here, because they are all over the place, and I’m trying to focus on books that make you want to go to a particular place. Maybe it is part laziness, as I find that the quality of the writing generally varies a great deal leaving me with the dilemma of which writers to focus on. But for personal reading, it sounds like a great suggestion. The same is true of a compilation by a travel writer.Huge congratulations on getting the two-year award!!

  14. Thanks for sharing! And I almost forgot—Happy New Year ATB! It has been a great experience to make this blog one of my routine morning readings. Thanks! -r

  15. Love the song~ and what a great list of books! My all-time favorite travel song is the classic “Summertime… and the livin’ is easy”. Altho not necessarily a travel song, it always makes me feel like getting on a slow-moving river boat. Happy New Year!

  16. Clever use of the video to tie in with your reading list, Vera, which I’ll pass on to my colleagues at Book Passage’s Left Coast Writers literary salon (where tonight’s featured speaker will be Lonely Planet author, Alison Bing).

    My best travel book of 2011 is Linda Ballou’s “Lost Angel Walkabout” (reviewed on my blog at:

    My candidate for travel song is “Beyond The Blue Horizon” (there lots of video renditions on YouTube:

    Happy New Year!

    1. Great musical choice, Dick. And Happy New Year to you, too. I’ll definitely have Ballou’s book on my reading list, but as I explained in my reply to her, I don’t generally review “round ups” of travel writing–preferring to focus on one place.

  17. I keep a (very long) list of books I’d like to read. I just copy/pasted all the titles you mentioned to that list — thank you!

    May your New Year be filled with fine words!

    1. Wynne: What a delight to see you join the conversation here. I know you’ll love these books–but beware, they lead to purchasing of tickets and making reservations.

  18. Never heard this song before. I like it. So calming and dreamy-like. Makes me want to travel to one of those faraway places right this minute. I also like the list of books you posted. They look very interesting. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Best wishes for 2012!

    1. Oh, dear, I’m so old that I sometimes make assumptions about common knowledge that are way off. You’re obviously much younger. I hope I’ve introduced you not only to Faraway Places (the song) but the wonderful voice of Maggie Whiting as well. Happy New Year to you, and many lovely photo ops in NYC.

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