Books for Armchair Travel and Adventure It's winter, which may make you feel like you want to go on a journey. Maybe you're actually planning one, or perhaps just wishing for an adventure. Librarian Nancy Pearl suggests a stack of travel books that will send you on journeys across distance and time.
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Books for Armchair Travel and Adventure

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Books for Armchair Travel and Adventure

Books for Armchair Travel and Adventure

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Well, it is winter, which may make you feel like you want to go on a journey someplace. Maybe you're actually planning to, but if you're like most of us, you'll be here working and just wishing you could take an adventure, which is what books are for - which is why Nancy Pearl, Seattle librarian, frequently comes to talk with us. Nancy, welcome again to our studios.

NANCY PEARL: Thank you, Steve. It's great to be here.

INSKEEP: You have sent us a stack of travel books this time. And let's begin with a book called "Dead Reckoning: Great Adventure Writing from the Golden Age of Exploration, 1800 to 1900." What's happening here?

PEARL: Well, I first have to say that a good definition of an adventure that I once read - I'm not sure from where - is that an adventure is a tragedy that doesn't occur. Isn't that...

INSKEEP: But could at any moment.

PEARL: But could at any moment, right, when you wished you were at home in bed. But Helen Whybrow in "Dead Reckoning" has collected just a wonderfully wide-ranging group of authors who have written different travel accounts. And I think that this is a great book to begin with because it gives you a little taste of many different writers, ranging from the very well known - there's a little bit of Meriwether Lewis, John Wesley Powell.

INSKEEP: Meriwether Lewis is Lewis and Clark. That Lewis.

PEARL: Is the Lewis and Clark.

INSKEEP: And John Wesley Powell, what did he do?

PEARL: And John - the West.

INSKEEP: Explored the West?

PEARL: The Colorado River - went down the Colorado River. So some of these are heart-stopping adventures that you're accompanying these people on. And some of them are more getting to know the place where these people are. Just a really good stop, Helen Whybrow's book, and you're first step to sort of getting into good armchair travel.

INSKEEP: You do wonder what motivates people like this to travel to the most dangerous places.

PEARL: And actually, Pascal said something like all the troubles in the world are caused by the fact that people can't sit still in one place, which I think is pretty interesting. I think it's partly just this sense that they want to see what's over the next hill.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another person here who could not sit still - Mary Kingsley, the author of "Travels in West Africa." And this is a book from the 19th century, right?

PEARL: (Reading) "My ignorance regarding West Africa was soon removed. And although the vast cavity in my mind that it occupied is not even yet half filled up, there is a great deal of very curious information in its place. I use the word curious advisedly, for I think many seem to translate my request for practical hints and advice into an advertisement that rubbish may be shot here."

INSKEEP: Well, I have to ask as you read this book from the late 1890s - she's British, right?

PEARL: She is British.

INSKEEP: And she's writing at a time when they had a lot of attitudes in that time that certainly don't seem very pleasant today. Are there passages in a book like this that make you cringe?

PEARL: There are. I think that's a really good point. That's something - when you read these books that were written in a time when our sensibilities might have been a little bit different and the world was certainly a far different place, that you do have to read it with the knowledge that this hasn't been edited to make it more palatable to 21st century sensibilities.

INSKEEP: Maybe you can actually learn a little bit that way, even.

PEARL: I think that it makes a very good place to start a discussion and to say, well, look at this sense of imperialism, this sense of everything was open to the Brits because the sun never set on the British empire.

INSKEEP: Well, let's take a look at a more modern examination of the same period. This is a novel this time. It's by Susanna Moore, and the novel is called "One Last Look."

PEARL: And this was the height of the British Raj. The novel "One Last Look" talks about her brother's decision and the British government's decision to send Indian and British troops into Afghanistan. So this was the start of the first Afghan war.

INSKEEP: Which was a disaster for the British.

PEARL: Which was a huge disaster for the British. And this gives you a sense of the differences and yet the similarities between then and now.

INSKEEP: And so you have that novel, looking back at a historical period, and an area that we're certainly very interested in today...

PEARL: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: ...which is also true of our next book, "In Search of King Solomon's Mines," by Tahir Shah.

PEARL: But one of the things that you see in Tahir Shah's book which gives you a really good sense of what armchair travelers are lucky they don't have to go through because the actual travelers do, is that he's arrested as a spy and then has to talk himself out of that difficult situation that he finds himself in.

INSKEEP: So we keep going to countries in the news here. We've been to Afghanistan...

PEARL: I know.

INSKEEP: ...we've been to the Holy Land. King Solomon, of course, great biblical king. This book takes us eventually to Ethiopia, which has been in the news. And now we're heading on a train to Baghdad - "The 8:55 to Baghdad." by Andrew Eames.

PEARL: Yes. This is partly an account of his journey on the great trains - the Orient Express that goes from London to Baghdad. But because the Orient Express, of course, was the subject of Agatha Christie's probably best-known novel...

INSKEEP: "Murder on the..."

PEARL: know mystery, "Murder on the Orient Express." What Andrew Eames has done in "The 8:55 to Baghdad" is combine both a biography of Agatha Christie with an account of his train journey. And because this is set just before the war began in 2003, there's a lot of really interesting information about the lead-up to the war. So I think political science junkies will really enjoy this book, as well as people who love Agatha Christie and people who just love to read about great travel.

INSKEEP: Well, Nancy Pearl, are you planning to travel to any of these places you've now read about?

PEARL: No. I'll just stay home and read another book.

INSKEEP: Well, that's great.


INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of "Book Lust" and "More Book Lust," and a regular guest on this program. We're delighted you came by again.

PEARL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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