The 10 best travel books I read in 2017
It’s the end of the year, and time to reflect on the year past and plan for the year ahead. I am very pleased to report I knocked my Goodreads goal of 30 books for 2017 out of the park (I read 40!). Should I stretch myself in 2018 and aim for a book a week?
Anyhow, it’s time to share some of my favorite travel books from this year that kept my wanderlust stoked while my wallet was empty.
This book was a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law to be ahead of our Japan honeymoon. I’m always a little leery of culturally insensitive Westerners writing about anywhere but Europe or the US, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book.
Michael Booth travels from the north island of Hokkaido through the southern islands of Okinawa in search of the best food Japan has to offer. If you’re only familiar with sushi and ramen and are interested in Japanese cooking philosophy, I highly recommend this book. The stories are certainly getting me hyped for our honeymoon!
I picked up this book before a last minute trip to Bulgaria and Greece to try and glom a quick understanding of the region before I crossed the Atlantic. I’m really glad I did, otherwise I would not have known to check out Plovdiv, the oldest city in Europe. I’m working on a blog post about my day in Plovdiv. It’s over 10,000 years old! Who knew?
Eastern Europe! is a comprehensive history of the neglected side of Europe, but surprisingly funny and light for a history book. There are certainly grim stories to reflect the macabre past of the region (especially during and after World War II), but fun and heartwarming tales as well.
New York by Edward Rutherfurd is a huge tome featuring fictional short stories from all sorts of New Yorkers, from Native Americans in the Manhatta isle pre-colonization, to the Dutch settlers, to the Revolutionaries, Gilded Age, all sorts of immigrants, all the way to right after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers.
I definitely have a different relationship with the city I’ve lived in for almost 10 years after reading this book. A must for any NYC lover.
Alright… probably everyone has read this by now. I had not until this year. It was a fairly enjoyable read. Maybe a bit of a guilty pleasure. If you’re raised in a certain practice of self denial (re:women), it’s a book of affirmation.
In any case, it’s fun to fantasize about what your Eat, Pray, Love picks would be. Mine would probably be Thailand, Japan, and Mexico. Or… NYC for all three, haha.
A few years ago I went with my family to explore Scotland in a sort of “heritage tour”. It was a very powerful experience to see our family name etched into marble in old churches.
Kinfolk is a fictional tale of “reverse” immigration, with a Chinese-American family moving back to China. I was expecting something like my own heritage tour experience, but what the protagonists encountered during their migration back to China during the Revolution was dramatically different than my experience. A truly powerful and moving story by Pearl S. Buck.
If I thought Kinfolk was grim, it has nothing on Homegoing. After reading this novel Yaa Gyasi made me realize what privilege I possess by being able to trace my own genealogy.
Homegoing follows the families of two sisters from colonial Ghana throughout many generations. One is kidnapped and sold into slavery, and one stays behind. It’s equal parts heartbreaking, beautiful, and infuriating (due to America’s own checkered past).
I love Elif Shafak. I included her works twice on this list. When I got the chance to take a few days in Istanbul, I made sure to read this book beforehand. It’s another piece of historical fiction, but it humanizes the beautiful architecture of one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.
This story follows the apprentice of the esteemed Mimar Sinan (architect of the Blue Mosque, Taj Mahal, and Sulejkajdkz Mosque) during the height of the Ottoman Empire. There’s a bit of romance thrown in that borders on preposterous, but Elif’s beautiful prose is always a soothing treat.
My other Elif Shafak read for this year, the Forty Rules of Love follows the dual story of a New England housewife contemplating a divorce (admittedly the less interesting story), and the life of the Sufi mystic friend of Rumi, Shams of Tabriz.
Shams is said to be the inspiration of Rumi’s love poetry (in a platonic fashion). This tale is equal parts parable, love story, mystic fiction, and travel book.
If you can only read one book on this list, make it Mirrors. It’s several hundred 1–3 page chapters about the history of the entire world. Sometimes based in legend and folk tale, sometimes based on historical documentation, Mirrors is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
I guess you can call it a history book? I certainly wish I had read it during World History classes. This book is the antidote to the Eurocentric world history we were all fed in school.
Growing up in Florida we always cowered in fear of hurricanes when they inevitably steamrolled the state. This fictional book describes what happens when a cyclone (same thing as a hurricane but in the Indian Ocean) hits a thoroughly less prepared third-world country.
Add a constant fear of tiger attack into the mix, and you have a page-turner!
Want more book recommendations? Add me on Goodreads! I can’t guarantee there won’t be the occasional trashy fantasy novel 😉