Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (Harper, $15). A compulsively readable account of an alcohol-fueled hallucination in an alien landscape — a reckless danse macabre through the Mexican Day of the Dead. The physical struggle to shape a literary masterpiece from years of abortive travel informs every hard-won sentence.
North by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Dalkey Archive, $14). Wrong decision follows wrong decision as a half-crazed doctor travels, with wife and cat, from World War II Paris to a Berlin under fire. Wild flights of humor follow as the pitiful troop straggles across the countryside toward the Baltic.
The Shipwrecked Men by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (out of print). An extract from the journal of a survivor of the calamitous 1527 Spanish expedition to Florida. De Vaca walks, barefoot and nearly naked, across the previously unexplored continent, in order to reach Mexico City. This pioneering work (available in various translations) anticipates the future projects of so many artists, from Gary Snyder to Werner Herzog.
Spandau, The Secret Diaries by Albert Speer (Ishi, $35). The ex-Nazi official paced his prison yard for decades, mapping the distances achieved into real-world geography. He imagined an epic tramp across Germany and onward into Siberia. Fording the frozen Bering Straits, he limped down America's West Coast, and was 20 miles south of Guadalajara when he was freed.
Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac (Riverhead, $16). A lyrical sweep down the Pacific Rim, from the elective solitude of a summer on a Cascades peak to partying in San Francisco. With a restless Kerouac lurch, the story moves to isolation again — a roof in Mexico City, where the writer recomposes memory as a dream of fiction.
Dylan Thomas in America by John Malcolm Brinnin (Prion, $20). Growing up in the same part of Wales as the great poet, I found that the legends of Thomas's adventures in America were both a Calvinistic warning and an inducement to follow in his thirsty footsteps. Brinnin's portrayal of Thomas's four trips to postwar America describes a tragic yet delirious dance to the death.
—Iain Sinclair's newest book, Ghost Milk, is a walking tour through his hometown London and an homage to its vanishing past and its "future ruins."
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