A literary trip around the world

This huge chunk of gorgeousness was a present to myself on my 40th birthday in 2005. Yes, I know that makes me as old as the hills but that’s neither here nor there.

I bought it because I love travelling and photography – there are some stunning pictures inside. It cost me £40, which seemed appropriate as it was my fortieth birthday, but was the most money I had ever spent on a single book.

It’s one of those enormous coffee table books that really needs to be on display because it’s too huge and heavy to have on your lap. I’ve lugged it through five house moves and it is a bit dog-eared but it now lives on a shelf in my lounge.

The Travel Book has introduced me to writing from literally every part of the world because it transpired that this contained far more than beautiful pictures.

It features information – usually a double page spread – on every country in the world.

As you can see, most of the double page is devoted to great photography but there is also a map of the country, a list of places to visit, details of the best times to visit and then a little section called Getting Under the Skin which aims to give you a proper taste of the country you are looking at.

This includes things to read, listen to, watch, eat, and drink and is just a fabulous way to get a flavour of a country from your armchair.

Many years ago, before I was due to go to Albania to write some travel features, I had a scan of the Albanian pages and it recommended I should read a book called Broken April by Ismail Kadare. I’d never heard of him. But I found the book, read it, became hooked on Kadare’s simple, elegant writing style and now have around 10 of his novels. Ismail Kadare was the first winner of the International Booker Prize in 2005.

I searched for more and discovered an author called Banana Yoshimoto on the Japan pages. Now, quite apart from the fact that the author has an Ab Fab name, the novels are wonderful and there is a possibility I never would have come across them if it hadn’t been for The Travel Book.

Some of the suggested reading is obvious. It suggests anything by Robert Burns for Scotland and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales for Denmark. There are others like ER Braithwaite’s To Sir With Love, which is a brilliant book but is listed under Guyana and I think it would be more suited to London’s East End.

Because I am extremely sad and have way too much time on my hands, I have been through all 230 countries listed in this book and created a reading list of everything it suggests. I’ve printed it out. It’s in my handbag. Some are a little obscure and, if I am completely honest, I can’t see myself picking up Nauru: Phosphate and Political Progress (which is apparently about mining) any time soon.

I am highly likely, however, to delve into books by the excellent travel writers Colin Thubron and Paul Theroux whose books I enjoy anyway.

Some of the suggestions are poems, some fiction and there’s a good smattering of travel writing, history, geography and politics in the recommendations too.

I can remember at the time of purchase all those years ago, thinking it was a lot of money to pay for a book and I thought long and hard before parting with my cash. But I am so glad I did because apart from being a beautiful thing in its own right, it has introduced me to a wealth of writing from all over the world that I may never have come across without The Travel Book.

In my view it was money well spent.

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