Got Wanderlust? We Have Books to Help

When I was younger, I was certain I’d have a life full of exotic, adventurous travel. These days, however, I’m lucky to get my family together for a quick trip to the beach. So, now I get my thrills from reading about someone else’s exotic adventures. Memoirs of daring lives, stories of dangerous expeditions and travel to far-flung places all satisfy my second-hand thirst. If your vacation plans are limited this summer, I recommend grabbing a comfy chair and a cool drink before setting off on an epic armchair adventure of your own. 

If your tastes lean towards the historic, try one of these fascinating accounts of exploration. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides takes you on a doomed expedition to reach the North Pole. Naval officer George Washington De Long, armed with a faulty understanding of Arctic geography, believed warm, western ocean currents would quickly carry his ship through a thin ring of ice circling the North Pole. The crew’s incredible fight for survival amid the vast polar ice is both riveting and heartbreaking.

Fever, near-starvation, hostile Indian tribes and man-eating animals are standard for most Amazonian adventures. The River of Doubt by Candace Miller adds a daring U.S. president, touching father-son relationship and murder. In 1913, after losing his third presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt, his 24-year old son Kermit and the Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon set out to chart one of the Amazon River’s deadliest tributaries.

Two lovely memoirs detail the exploits of early aviators Beryl Markham and Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In West with the Night, Markham evocatively describes her childhood on an isolated Kenyan farm and the eccentric expatriate life of East Africa. Her colorful anecdotes cover her experiences as a racehorse trainer, bush pilot and the first female to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic.

It’s no surprise that the author of The Little Prince would produce a memoir both deeply philosophical and poetic. Wind, Sand, and Stars spans the globe from Africa to South America, including an enthralling account of survival following a crash in the Saharan Desert. His poignant observations on the human condition give depth to his accounts of his experiences flying in the 1920s and 1930s with the mail carrier Aéropostale.

These final two books may appeal to those who yearn to understand the modern world’s more remote areas. Colin Thubron travels by train, bus, car, donkey and camel to explore one of the world’s most historic trade routes in Shadow of the Silk Road. Thubron supplements his vibrant observations of the people and places he encountered during his 7,000-mile journey from China to Turkey with rich historical insights.

David Greene, currently host of NPR’s Morning Edition, takes a slightly less grueling but equally colorful glimpse into rural Russia in Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia. Greene and his Russian translator attempt to interpret the momentous changes Russia is experiencing over the course of the 6,000-mile trip from Moscow to Vladivostok.

-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library 

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