Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hit the Road, Jack

We've been enjoying an uncharacteristically long and warm and sunny stretch of late spring days, and those familiar with the vagaries of Seattle weather can only hope that this is not, in fact, summer, and all the summer we're going to get. Whatever the case, all the heat puts me in mind of travel. With kids still in school (and I'm not complaining), last week's day trip to Centralia might be all the world I'll be seeing for the near future, but there are always books.

Given my weakness for disaster books, exploration books follow close behind. Especially since exploration often entails disaster. And how frightening and exciting it must have been to explore when you really weren't positive what you might find! Nowadays there isn't a corner of the earth that hasn't been Fodored or Lonely-Planeted or Rick-Stevesed to death. (Speaking of Rick Steves, when we were listening to the radio in the car the other day, my fourth grader asked me, "What's a midnight toker?")

Besides KON-TIKI, here are some of my favorite recent exploration reads:

1421 by Gavin Menzies. Like KON-TIKI, it may contain flawed science, but Menzies' account of the Chinese Treasure Fleet possibly discovering the New World and circumnavigating the world is thrilling. Besides, it brags on Chinese people.

1491 by Charles C. Mann. What was the New World like before the Europeans showed up? Not exactly how it's been presented in textbooks and film, argues Mann. Not your usual anti-imperialist diatribe. Very funny description of Native Americans' first view of Europeans, from American perspective.

OVER THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Laurence Bergreen. Magellan's epic voyage. But after reading 1421, you may wonder how Magellan knew what he knew.

SEA OF GLORY by Nathaniel Philbrick. For those of you who couldn't stomach the cannibalism in Philbrick's IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, you'll be relieved to hear these sailors stick to rations. Charles Wilkes' 1838 Exploring Expedition and what they discovered.

THE RIVER OF DOUBT by Candice Millard. If you're a Teddy Roosevelt fan, what better than Teddy in an adventure story? Who knew he explored an unmapped South American river post-presidency. Top that, Woodrow Wilson.

BLUE LATITUDES: BOLDLY GOING WHERE CAPTAIN COOK HAS GONE BEFORE by Tony Horwitz. In the Tony Horwitz-Geraldine Brooks marriage, Horwitz apparently supplies the humor. Here he and a liquored-up buddy retrace Cook's epic voyages and find things rather shabby.

Flop in a shady hammock with one of these babies in one hand and a glass of iced tea in the other, and you're set. Travel without the drawbacks. No high gas prices, no snoozing head rolling onto your shoulder in coach class, no kids fighting in the back seat, no Montezuma's Revenge. This is the life.

1 comment:

  1. I also enjoyed "Sea of Glory" and "Blue Latitudes." You should add "South" and "Undaunted Courage" to the exploration list (though one ends up stuck on ice trying to reach the South Pole and the other has explorers having to eat their horses.