What's on my travel memoir bookshelf?

January 13, 2010

Every writer knows it’s important to read within your genre.

For me, this is not a reason to read travel memoirs as much as an excuse. I love travel memoirs. I read every one I can get my hands on. And now that I’m writing one, I read them in the name of research.

One of my favorite travel authors is Paul Theroux — I read his most recent book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (sequel to The Great Railway Bazaar, pubbed in 1975) while traipsing through Madagascar last year. But what I’m really focusing on now — partly out of interest, partly for research purposes — is travel memoirs written by women, particularly women traveling alone.

This comes in handy for my book proposal, which has a section called “Competitive Books,” where I list already-published titles that will be competition for my book. (Proposal writers take note: It’s also important to explain briefly why your book will be different and better than those titles.)

So what’s on my travel memoir bookshelf?

To help you decide whether to read these yourself, I’ve rated them on a three-star three-asterisk system. Three is best.

Have I missed any memoirs written by women traveling alone?

A quick note on how my book will be different and better, as required by my book proposal. As you can see, very few memoirs written by women traveling alone take place in Africa. And most of these authors were older than thirty, while my perspective is that of a woman in her late twenties.

But most importantly (aside from my literary voice, of course), unlike most women’s travel books, my story is not about looking for love nor running away from a failed relationship. It’s about taking a leap in life, following a dream, and how that in itself — even without a man, if you can believe it — is thrilling and satisfying.

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    14 Replies to “What's on my travel memoir bookshelf?”

    • katieleigh says:

      The Price of Water in Finistere, by Bodil Malmsten, is excellent. She’s Scandinavian, but moves to France when she’s in her 50s, I think. It’s a lovely meditation on place and noticing the little things about another culture.

      I love Elizabeth Gilbert, Alice Steinbach and Mary Morris – you’ve hit on some fabulous ones! (Have you read Educating Alice? It’s sort of Part 2 of Steinbach’s adventures.)

      I would also recommend Words in a French Life by Kristin Espinasse, Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, West with the Night by Beryl Markham (that’s an African one), and anything by Annie Hawes. She’s written four travel memoirs, three of them set in Italy and one (A Handful of Honey) set in northern Africa.

    • Mary Morris says:

      Alexis, thanks for having Nothing to Declare on your to-read list. I like your blog! I’m going to follow you. I have a kind of memoir/travel blog if you want to check it out. The Writer and the Wanderer (above). But great information and sources here! I’ll send my students your way.

      Happy traveling.
      Mary Morris

    • Emily says:

      on a side note, would love to hear what you think of ‘committed.’ i read epl and give it a ‘shrug.’ don’t actually want to read committed, but want someone who’s opinion i often agree with to give me the scoop on it. 😉

    • Joanna Penn says:

      HI Alexis,

      How about Robyn Davidson ‘Tracks’ about the Australian Outback – partially inspired me to leave London and move over here…

      and also Ffyona Campbell ‘On foot through Africa’

      plus oldie, but goodie – Freya Stark’s many great books – now she was an adventurer!

      I almost bought Committed but I don’t need convincing about marriage! 🙂

    • jessiecarty says:

      i didn’t know there were so many travel memoirs out there! i love them but i don’t tend to see them much in the store so thanks for the suggestions.

      i did read a YA novel “13 little blue envelopes” by Maureen Johnson that takes a maybe 18 year old girl following letters her aunt left her in Europe. Good read if you just want some fiction 😉

    • spyscribbler says:

      What do you think of Committed so far?

      I totally agree about the find-a-man thing. Kinda sick of that storyline. Yes, women can be fully-fulfilled without a man and without children. As a society, we don’t seem to get that.

    • Jennifer says:

      I have a couple of those on my shelf. I need to break down and read them. I long to be a nomad. As much as I love having a home to come home too it would be wonderful to just pick up and go whenever I had the urge. I’d be gone now. Actually, I’d be gone most of the time 🙂


    • Jane Sinclair says:

      Thanks for the list, I’ve added a couple to my wishlist. You might also look at The Day of a Thousand Surfing Buddha since I don’t see any or many set in Asia. (This one is set in the Chinese Himalaya). I look forward to reading your adventures in Africa (which is the only continent I have yet to visit).

    • molly says:

      “Four Corners” by Kira Salak and “The Beaten Track” by Sarah Menkedick are super-smart, bold books.

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