“One hundred of the best travel books”: that’s how publicists for Citizen M Hotels describe a project in which Seb Emina, editor of The Happy Reader magazine, has chosen a library for one of the company’s properties, at Bankside in London. The project, opened this week, is supported by the bookseller Stanfords, which is selling the titles included on a special page through its website.
Emina’s choice takes in fiction as well as non-fiction, ancient (The Odyssey) and modern (Afropean, Johnny Pitts’s exploration of black Europe, is included — though it still hadn’t officially been published at the time I was sent the list, on May 28). As well as narrative works it embraces guidebooks, maps and atlases. It’s organised in 18 categories, most self-explanatory (Rivers, Roads, Hotels, Interstellar), though “Dogs, donkeys, fridges” brackets the work of Martha Gellhorn, John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson with that of travel comic turns including Tony Hawks, who wrote Round Ireland with a Fridge).
Half the point of such lists, presumably, apart from encouraging reading and book sales, is to prompt argument and amendment. So… it’s great to see new talent, including Adam Weymouth (Kings of the Yukon) and Monisha Rajesh represented (though her latest book, Around the World in 80 Trains, is stronger than her first, which makes the list). It’a also good to see an acknowledgement that poetry — Derek Walcott’s Omeros — can be powerfully evocative of place. But how can a list of the 100 best travel books have nothing at all from Jonathan Raban? And how come it doesn’t have even one winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award, which has been Britain’s main prize for narrative travel since 2006? Robert Macfarlane is included in Emina’s list — but for Underland, published last month, rather than for The Old Ways, with which he won the Dolman prize (as it then was) jointly in 2013 with Kathleen Jamie (Sightlines).