By Richard West
Welcome to Everett Potter Travel Report’s 4th Annual Best Travel Books of the Year choices, a selection of opinions and quotes from previous reviews that whirls and dips like a drunkard’s bedroom.
One of the main themes in 2011’s travel narratives is exploration of the back of beyond: East Prussia, South America’s Guianas, Estonia, the almost unchartable, unfindable east central Europe of Romania and Albania.
Another is the paucity of fine books on traveling the U.S.A. William McKeen’s excellent “Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West” is more history than travel. Without further ado’s or adon’t’s:
1. John Gimlette’s Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge ranks as our best of 2011, “The adventurous Gimlette goes everywhere, suffers, endures with bravado. Don’t miss this book so you can give the places themselves a pass.”
2. Alexander Theroux’s Estonia” A Ramble Through the Periphery, as he wrote, “seeing Estonia—disrobing her—was my focus.” Mine was “an astonishing dissection of this little-known country but the ramble was more through Theroux’s head than the countryside.”
3. Max Egremont’s Forgotton Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia, where Kant taught, where Herder and Hamann studied, where Copernicus revolutionized science. “an extremely intelligent trip through a ‘vanished kingdom’ of Teutonic orders and the history of the Baltic.”
4. Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands. “The subtitle reads ‘Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will’…99 per cent of them are dots in vast oceans that amaze with astonishing stories. The result here is literary and graphic beauty.”
5. Colin Thubron’s To A Mountain In Tibet. “As always Thubron’s thorough research permeates his lyrical language, especially on the allegedly sin-cleansing 32-mile circular path at 18,000 on Mt. Kailas… a beautiful travel work that also serves as a chapter of autobiography.”
6. Andrzej Stasiuk’s On The Road To Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe. “By which he means forgotton villages in the outback of Ukraine-Romania-Slovakia-Hungary-Albania…places of no future, of the used-to-haves and the never-hads…all utterly fascinating.”
7. David Downie’s Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light. “All 31 essays are beautifully written, combining history, personal thoughts, facts. Don’t leave your hotel without it.”
Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.