Sometimes the only thing more delightful than lying on a beach and reading a book is, well, lying on a beach and reading a book about travel. This summer, happily, a slew of enlightening, moving and just plain funny travel memoirs have been released to accompany vacationers on their trips. Here are a few of the most notable:
The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle by Francisco Goldman
In this double love letter to his adopted city and his late wife, Goldman shares the tale of how exploring this massive metropolis helped him to regain his equilibrium—somewhat—after the death of his 30-year-old wife in a watersports accident. That story is interlaced, in a genuinely organic way, with intriguing tales about the city’s culture and history (its visual artists, its old movie magnates, its vivid neighborhoods) and its politics, including the long, sometimes horrifying, discussion of a 2013 wave of violence that rocked Mexico City. At the end of the book, despite the darker parts of the story, I think you’ll find yourself wanting to see the “Distrito Federal” for yourself.
Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett
Geography can be a wacky, wacky topic. That’s the takeaway of this book of curiosities, which draws pocket portraits of some of the world’s forgotten but still fascinating places. There’s the storage warehouse in Switzerland that holds more cultural treasures and pieces of art (including sculptures by Picasso) than any museum in the world, hiding within its recesses items worth an estimated $100 billion. And Bir Tawil, a 795-mile trapezoid of desert that is so grimly uncultivateable that Egypt and Sudan have been trying to prove for decades that the other nation owns it. Another border dispute, this time between India and Bangladesh, is the basis of the story of the Chitmahals, ethnic enclaves that polka dot the territory between the two nations. An Indian village might be surrounded by miles of Bangladeshi lands, meaning the residents of the tiny town need a visa to visit the nearest hospital (a situation that’s had tragic consequences). Because the book is written as a series of short vignettes, it’s an ideal travel tome, as you can pick it up a few days after starting, without losing the thread of the story.
Hidden Tuscany: Discovering Art, Culture and Memories in a Well Known Region’s Unknown Places by John Keahey
Don’t snicker! Even an area as over-examined (and over-touristed) as Tuscany one can yield unexpected treasures and insights. These are excavated in a loving tribute that concentrates, primarily, on the less known western area of this iconic region. Keahy takes readers to the medieval villages most tourists skip, the marble quarries that provided the material for the great art of the region, and even the once-unknown mass grave where the great Italian artist Caravaggio is likely buried. Along the way, readers learn about Tuscany’s cattle country and its marshes, tiny villages where residents speak such obscure dialects even those who live 10 miles outside can’t understand a word, and much more. One has to wonder if Alitalia had a hand in funding this book, as it will surely encourage travelers who’d written off Tuscan as “too touristy” to give it another try.