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My travel books of the year

The best books of the year on travel and place? You can find my choice in print today in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph. Here’s a little more on one of them: Solito by Javier Zamora (Oneworld, £18.99).

Perry wins non-fiction prize for ‘South to America’

The US National Book Award for non-fiction was won last week by Imani Perry for South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, in which Perry, a professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, New Jersey, returns to the American South — she was born in Birmingham, Alabama — to examine race, culture, politics and identity.

Reviewing the book in The New York Times, Tayari Jones said that it “straddles genre, kicks down the fourth wall, dances with poetry, engages with literary criticism and flits from journalism to memoir to academic writing”.

  The “100 notable books of 2022”, chosen by staff of The New York Times Book Review, include Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton and — my own favourite — Solito by Javier Zamora.

Hall and Mort share Boardman Tasker prize

The Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature went last night to both Brian Hall, for High Risk: Climbing to Extinction and Helen Mort for A Line Above The Sky.

Kendal Mountain Festival highlights

Speakers at literary events at the Kendal Mountain Festival, which opens on Thursday and finishes on Sunday, include Raynor Winn, talking about her latest book, Landlines; Sarah Thomas (The Raven’s Nest); Rebecca Lowe (The Slow Road to Tehran); Guy Shrubsole (The Lost Rainforests of Britain); Helen Mort (A Line Above the Sky); Anna Fleming (Time on Rock); Zaffar Kunial (England’s Green); and Monisha Rajesh (Around the World in 80 Trains). Tickets to watch the festival online (offering access until December 31) cost £48.

What’s new?

Work on other projects has left me no time lately to update Deskbound Traveller, so I’m grateful for the latest Genius Loci newsletter from Jeremy Bassetti, editor of Travel Writing World. If you haven’t signed up for it already, you can do so on his personal website or on Travel Writing World

  Last night, I see from Twitter, prize-winners in the British Guild of Travel Writers’ awards included Emma Thomson, who was named travel writer of the year; Tharik Hussain, whose Minarets in the Mountains: a Journey into Muslim Europe was travel narrative book of the year; and Simon Parker, travel broadcaster of the year.

  Recent contributors to the “Read your way through…” series of literary guides to cities, published in The New York Times, include Elif Shafak on Istanbul, Bernardine Evaristo on London and Pajtim Statovci on Helsinki.

Two views of a new Jan Morris biography

A new unauthorised biography of Jan Morris by the writer and broadcaster Paul Clements, Jan Morris: Life from Both Sides (Scribe, £19.99),  was reviewed in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday by Jasper Rees, who said it was “as much encyclopaedia as biography — ‘a heavy doughnut’ as Morris once said of a book by Laurens van der Post”. John Walsh, who reviewed the biography for The Sunday Times on October 2, took a different view: it was, he reckoned, “a marvel of clarity, fluency and (Morris’s favourite word in her final days) kindness”.

Sara Wheeler is currently researching the official biography, due for publication in 2026, to mark the centenary of Morris’s birth.

Raynor Winn on ‘Landlines’

Raynor Winn will join contributors to an online session of the 5×15 forum on November 14 to talk about Landlines, the story of her latest long-distance walk with her husband Moth.

Life as a journey

Eland, which last week celebrated its 40th anniversary as a travel publisher, has two new books coming later this month. One is Smelling the Breezes (October 20, £14.99, paperback), first published in 1959, in which Ralph and Molly Izzard recount a 300-mile walk down the spine of the Lebanon “with four children, two donkeys and Elias, the family’s gardener, nursemaid and friend”. Ralph Izzard, a note from the publisher points out, was a “heroic” intelligence officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and one of Ian Fleming’s role models for James Bond.

The other Eland title is On Travel and the Journey Through Life (October 27, £9.99, hardback): “a pyrotechnic display of cracking one-liners, cynical wordplay and comic observation, mining 3,000 years of global wit and wisdom: from Pliny to Spinoza and from Albert Einstein to Aunt Augusta… it proves that travel — far from being an indulgent escape — is real preparation for the journey through life.” The collection is edited by Eland’s Barnaby Rogerson, with portraits of writers by Kate Boxer.

The same theme, coincidentally, is explored in a new book out today from Rolf Potts, that tireless advocate of independent travel. On Twitter he says that The Vagabond’s Way: 366 Meditations on Wanderlust, Discovery, and the Art of Travel (Ballantine Books, $28.99) “draws on 3,000 years of global travel wisdom to explore how journeys can deepen your life (and how life itself is a journey)”.

A prince among travel writers?

The former Prince of Wales was a man who, in his own words, “tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off”. The new King Charles III, we’re regularly told, will have to be more measured if he’s to remain above the political fray, and so Britain could lose a strong voice on issues as various as climate change and inner-city deprivation. Maybe, with Charles’s ascension to the throne, we’ve already lost something else.

  I’m reminded of a passage in Paul Theroux’s 2008 book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. In it, he tells how he lined up in a hotel in Jodhpur, India, to introduce himself to the then prince, who was leaving a conference on water conservation. Parts of Charles’s  diary about the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese had just been made public, and Theroux says of them: 

He had mocked the handover ceremony, called some of the Chinese notables ‘waxworks’, spoken of the Chinese president’s ‘propaganda speech’ and scorned the goose-stepping Chinese soldiers. He also complained of being stuck in club class, rather than first, on his way out: ‘Such is the end of empire, I sighed to myself.’

What this proved was that though he may never be crowned king… he could still make a decent living as a travel writer…

Under siege in Ukraine

The latest book from the Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov (best known for his post-Soviet satire Death and the Penguin) is a version of the diary he has been writing since Russian tanks rolled into his country last February: Diary of an Invasion (Mountain Leopard, £16.99). In The Observer last weekend, which published extractsKurkov was interviewed by Rachel Cooke. His book, she says, brings the early days of the war vividly to life:

He writes stirringly of the notes people begin leaving in their cars offering lifts to the border; of his sudden longing for the comforting sweetness of honey; of the cigarettes required to bribe Russian soldiers at checkpoints in the east. Here are the kind of stories you don’t see on the television news: a description of the evacuation of dolphins trained to work with autistic children from Kharkiv to Odesa; of the doll talismans (known as oberig or “protectors”) that Ukrainians knit and transport to the front along with warm socks; of the rise of the TikTok star Tetyana Chubar, a tiny, blond, 23-year-old divorced mother of two, who is the commander of a self-propelled howitzer.

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