10 Best Travel Books of 2013

Bests of 2013 at A Traveler’s Library

Which best travel books? There are so many qualifiers that they would not fit in the title line. So here goes:

The criteria at A Traveler’s Library for best travel books are different than most of the lists you’ll see. When I choose, my first question is , “Is this a beautifully written book?” and my second is, “Did it make me want to go somewhere?”

So here’s the list for NEW Best Travel Books in 2013 that made our list. Two nonfiction and eight fiction, take us to Vietnam, Morocco, Arizona, Iran, Central America, China, Denmark, California, Afghanistan, New York and — incidentally– a couple of other places. They include a first novel, a mystery, a food book, a memoir and historic fiction. In short, they represent the diversity that you expect from A Traveler’s Library.

Communion, Best Travel Books
10. Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam by Kim Fay makes me want to go to Vietnam–or at least to a local Vietnamese restaurant to try some of the great food she discusses. I said, “This book is a delight to read. Kim Fay’s enthusiasm for all things Vietnamese shines on every page.  But unlike some enthusiasts, she is skillful at seeking out the details that help us understand her enthusiasm.” Read the entire review here.

Bottom of the Jar :Best Travel Books
9. The Bottom of the Jar  byAbdellatif Laâbi painted such a beautiful picture of Moroccan culture that it cemented my desire to travel there. I said, “The rhythm of the book is like poetry and the imagery so sharp that for a few hours, I felt that I was in Fez in the 50′s. ” Read the entire review here.

Rage Against the Dying: Best Travel Books
8. Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman. Technically, this  fun-to-read mystery did not make me want to travel to Tucson–but only because I already live here.  I said, “..the twists she has given the tried and true formula make it fresh, unpredictable and fun.  And isn’t it delightful to discover a brand new author and begin panting for the next book?” Read the entire review here.

The Jacaranda Tree: Best Travel Books
7. Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani  has me once again wishing that political situations were such that a journey to Iran would not be so fraught. I said, “The beginning of the novel is one of the most hypnotic I have ever read.” Read the entire review here.

The Blind Masseuse: Best Travel Books
6. The Blind Masseuse by Alden Jones is a collection of travel essays tied together as a memoir of many years of travel. Thus the book goes several places, principally Central America. Jones definitely gives you enough atmosphere that you have reason to want to follow her travels.  I said,” Unlike most travel memoirs, The Blind Masseuse is thoughtful and literate, leaving you with much to think about.” Read the entire review here.

Kashgar: Best Travel Books
5. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson fictionalizes real women who struck off for this Silk Road city in the 1920’s. It is just so exotic that who could resist wanting to follow? I said, “Not only is this a rousing good story, it turns out that the author has done a very good deed in painting a picture of a territory little changed in the past hundred years until recently when the Chinese decided to obliterate most of the old town of Kashgar as part of their effort to dominate the recalcitrant Uighurs.” Read the entire review here.

Kerrigan in Copenhagen: Best Travel Books
4. Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E. Kennedy. With a main character who is a guide-book writer, this novel unwinds like a real life Michelin of Copenhagen and introduced me to more reasons to want to go there than I would ever have dreamed of.  I said, “Besides having the magnetic draw of fascinating characters and a beautifully woven tale, the novel is funny.” Read the entire review here.  *Note: This is technically not a NEW book, but it was published for the first time in the U.S. last year.

San Miguel: Best Travel Books
3. San Miguel by T. C. Boyle. This intriguing book had me wanting to go to a domestic destination that I had previously not devoted any thought to at all–the Channel Islands off California.  I said, ” Boyle deftly tells the story of these families from the point of view of the women. His novel explores not only human psychology but also sharply defines the enormous changes in attitudes, beliefs, and the effect of technology, communications and war on American life over a period that equals an average life time.” I could not put the book down.  Read the entire review here.

What Changes Everything: Best Travel Books
2. What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton, just blew me away with its technical writing skill and thoughtful presentation of difficult issues. Although it did not lure me to Afghanistan (not at the present, anyhow) it did make me resolve to spend some time in Brooklyn the next time I to to NYC. Read the entire review here.

Seven Locks: Best Travel Books
1. Seven Locks by Christine Wade.  Besides the fact that I absolutely loved everything about this book–the story telling, myth borrowing, details of a bit of history that is generally ignored (the effect of war on common people) and the flip side of the story of a reviled woman–the book made me really, really, want to wander through the Hudson River Valley.  I said, “The book can be searing in its raw description of the life of a woman deserted by husband and children and community. But the language is so beautiful that you can’t put it down.  Within its many threads, it comes down finally to a question of what is true and what we believe.” Read the entire review here.

Of course I would like to have you read my reviews of any of these books that catch your eye, but even more important–read the books.

A few more caveats to go with the introductory explanations:

  • The books we review are not necessarily those you will find in the travel section of a book store.
  • The books we review are generally published by established publishers rather than self-published, but we make exceptions if the author is a known quantity.
  • The books we review are generally available in both digital or print format.

You may not agree with these choices of best travel books. Please say so in the comment section and tell me what you would suggest instead.

Note: If you click on the book cover illustrations above, you can go directly to Amazon for your book and other shopping. Although it costs no more, you’ll be supporting A Traveler’s Library by shopping our links. Thank you.

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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.

19 thoughts on “10 Best Travel Books of 2013

  1. Not a 2013-book, but I recently reread Marguerite Duras’ little book l’Amant and I so want to wander about in Saigon’s Chinatown, preferably Saigon of that era, but…

  2. I am unfamiliar with all of those books so I think it’s great to get some new names. I think the Cyclists’s Guide to Kashgar sounds like a great place to start.
    I just finished reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – part fiction, part reality – about Hemingway’s first wife and now I want to explore all the nooks and crannies in Paris that they frequented.

    1. Leigh: I have to warn you that Cyclist’s Guide is not REALLY about bicycling. The bicycle plays a VERY minor role. However, it is a great book. I’d like to read The Paris Wife. As I recall, I requested it from the publisher and they did not reply, so I moved on to other things.

  3. I love your broad definition of what a travel book is, Vera. It speaks to what is so important to me when I read novels—a strong sense of place. Can’t wait to look at some of your suggestions.

  4. I always love seeing your best of lists, because I have very limited time for reading [sadface] and need guidance.

    What would you recommend for a person with very little time who loves biographies of real people in far-off places?

    1. I agree. The Vietnam book made me hungry, too. And hungry for travel to Vietnam as well as Vietnamese food. But T.C. Boyle’s San Miguel is a fascinating book. And there is a dog in there somewhere, too! As there is in Seven Locks, which I think would be a great book for you Pamela.

  5. Fun list, Vera Marie. I’m curious to read Kerrigan in Copenhagen and San Miguel.

    A book that I enjoyed recently, Cruising Attitude, by flight attendant Heather Poole was published in 2012. The book is available in paperback and at my public library, so not a 2013 contender.

    1. Kerrigan is a big book, but if you like Nabakov, for example, you’ll be fascinated. And San Miguel is definitely a winner. Cruising Attitude sounds like it would be great–although it probably doesn’t quite fit my insistence on describing a specific place in detail?

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