We’re off to the Canary Islands for a week, and as my bags sit waiting in the hall, full of suncream and fiction, I find myself thinking about travel writing books. We have a small shelf of guidebooks which we never look at these days because of course we look online for information. I might even have one about the Canary Islands somewhere….
All those Michelin, Berlitz and Collins guides; do people still buy them? They have their shelves in bookshops for sure. But for me, it’s the travelogue which endures. I return over and over to the books where the author is as important as the place. I’ve devoured everything ever written by Bill Bryson, and some places in the world are defined for me by him. If I ever walk on the Appalachian trail, it will be his account A Walk in The Woods in my head.
There is also a tremendous book by Paul Theroux The Pillars of Hercules which was about his voyage around the Mediterranean coast. My imagined Spain is heavily influenced by that book. And more recently, a visit to Orkney was coloured by Amy Liptrott’s The Outrun. This is less a travelogue and more of a memoir, true, which has me wondering about fiction or memoir’s role for travellers. It was Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice which made me yearn to visit the Australian Outback. I felt I knew Cornwall before I ever visited because of Daphne du Maurier, and Bath was always about Jane Austen.
Thanks to publishers’ current obsession, I’ve read at least five books already this year set in Ireland (Normal People and Conversations with Friends, both by Sally Rooney, Wych Elm by Tana French, Himself by Jess Kidd, and of course there was the magnificent Booker prize winner set in Northern Ireland; Milkman by Anna Burns). I wonder if that’s influencing my desire to see Dublin some day….