Looking for a book to give your favorite traveler? Or for yourself? Go beyond the predictable Travel Section at your bookstore: “Non-guidebooks” offer insights and information that will inspire the globetrotters on your list.
What are Non-guidebooks?
They’re books about the history and culture of places in the world. They can be factual, explaining how circumstances, such as war, shaped a nation. They can also be fiction, describing an experience in another part of the world. Maybe a collection of stories or articles that are travel-related, but not in the “Go-here, See-this, Eat-that” kind of way. Rather, they give readers a deeper understanding of people. They educate, entertain…and encourage us to keep exploring.
Non-guidebooks to give…or check out from your library
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall: Every single country has geographical issues. Too much coastline…or too little. Mountains, rivers, vast plains, frozen tundra. You name it, somewhere it’s causing a headache for political leaders. Marshall takes ten countries or regions, shows us the maps, and explains the challenges: past, present, and future. “So it is with all nations, big or small. The landscape imprisons their leaders, giving them fewer choices and less room to maneuver than you might think.” He starts with Russia–you’ll understand Putin’s worries–then moves on to China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India/Pakistan, Korea/Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic. Not just for travelers, consider this book for people who are interested in politics, current events…or geography.
Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg: With a subtitle of “How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life,” you might roll your eyes and take a pass. I encourage you to read it; after all, the New York Times loved it. Klinenberg is a Chicago-born sociologist who studied public spaces and how they affect the community. Parks, squares, libraries, cafes…the places travelers know will show authentic everyday life. Places where locals meet and build relationships. Given the divisions in modern society, it’s worth studying locations around the world where everyone benefits from public spaces…and what we can all learn about getting out of our homes and into spots where everyone is welcome.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage: Did you know that a few beverages have defined human development and history? Starting in 3000 BCE, when beer was so valuable in Egypt and Mesopotamia that it was used to pay wages, up to today’s Coca-Cola and its international influence, drinks have been important. Standage also covers wine, spirits, coffee, and tea. Each changed the culture of the world, one glass at a time. After reading this book, you’ll have a new appreciation for your morning caffeine and your Happy Hour get-togethers.
Wheels Within Wheels: The Makings of a Traveller by Dervla Murphy: While some may point out that this is indeed a travel book, I’ll respond by saying it’s an autobiography by an adventurous soul who happened to travel…mainly by bicycle. Murphy has a series of books about her unconventional life, starting with Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle. She wrote, “For my tenth birthday my parents gave me a second-hand bicycle and Pappa [her grandfather] sent me a second-hand atlas. Already I was an enthusiastic cyclist, though I had never before owned a bicycle, and soon after my birthday I resolved to cycle to India one day.” And she started to ride 50 miles a day! A single mother, Murphy took her daughter Rachel with her, after Rachel turned 5. Together they journeyed the world. Murphy was born in 1931 and is still lively. Give this book to anyone who’s timid about travel; to someone who needs a kick in the pants to get going; or to motivate a woman to throw caution to the wind.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: If a novel seems like a good option for a gift, I recommend this story of an ordinary man, bored in retirement, who ends up on an extraordinary quest. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and a NYT bestseller, Joyce takes us on Harold’s impulsive 600-mile pilgrimage to see a dying friend; he’s convinced that if he keeps walking, she will stay alive. Along the way, he meets people, inspires others, and changes lives. A couple of sentences have stayed with me: “He no longer saw distance in terms of miles. He measured it with his remembering.” and “Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways.” The book is a treat for anyone who enjoys seeing the world–or their life–with fresh eyes.
*Non-guidebooks from Lonely Planet: Literature Collections
These books are related to travel because the stories happened during a trip. The writers–both new and established–share their tales on different topics. I love each book; I think you will, too. Here are three of my favorites. They’re about $15 each, but watch for LP specials on TravelSmart Woman’s website.
The Kindness of Strangers: 26 stories about how travelers were helped–or outright rescued–by people who could have just walked by. But they stepped in to offer everything from food to protection, just to aid a “foreigner.” This book restores faith in mankind and offers hope for the world.
By the Seat of My Pants: Here are 31 tales that are funny examples of when events don’t go as planned. Of course, these make the most memorable and exciting stories–both for telling and for reading. They also remind us that there can be humor in any situation.
A Moveable Feast: Nothing goes with travel like food; they’re inseparable. These 38 stories cover meals of all types, written by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, and Pico Iyer. No matter the ingredients, food fills us physically, emotionally, and spirituality. A “feast” of a book!
Need another gift suggestion? How about giving a travel magazine subscription?