Tony Hiss' 6 favorite travel reads
The New Yorker writer selects his top "travel" tales — books that have taken him everywhere from Greece to a dystopian future
Roumeli by Patrick Leigh Fermor (NYRB Classics, $16). It’s impossible to create a list of great travel books without at least one by Fermor, the best of the best. Wherever life takes him, Fermor is the quintessential Deep Traveler, eagerly awaiting whatever will unfold during the day ahead. This book, set in northern Greece, is beautifully crafted, like all of Fermor’s books.
Adventures in Afghanistan by Louis Palmer (Octagon, $19). Alternately hair-raising and awe-inspiring. Palmer, traveling in the years just after Soviet occupation, is led to thriving (and most of us would say unlikely) modern-day Arabian Nights communities still tucked away throughout Afghanistan. A book that makes you think deeply about the endurance of human values.
Ceremonial Time by John Hanson Mitchell (Counterpoint, $17). A sober and beautifully written essay about a completely available kind of time travel. Tutored by Native Americans, Mitchell cultivates an ability to keep alive in his mind the entire post-glacial history of his Massachusetts town as a single, 15,000-year-long present moment.
The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson (HarperCollins, $27). In this short, posthumous book, the great environmentalist presents wonder as an alternative way of traveling through life, as a state that can make you feel you’ve entered a faraway land.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (out of print). A nonstop 1956 science-fiction classic so crowded with invention and insight it seems sparkling and brand-new. Among its marvels: an extended meditation on travel—in Bester’s dystopia, everyone can “jaunte” (teleport without machinery), and only very rich show-offs still drive or bike through the countryside.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (Dover, $5). Read one way, this 19th-century travel book is a joyful chronicle about how Deep Travel changed the course of a great writer’s life. In his early 20s, Twain sprang to life as an observer who missed nothing by training to be a riverboat pilot and “looking at the river” over and over—a task that sounds simple until you realize that the river changes every day and sometimes moment to moment.
—Tony Hiss, a New Yorker staff writer for 30 years, is the author of The Experience of Place and 12 other books. His latest, In Motion: The Experience of Travel, describes a state he calls Deep Travel, when everything seems fresh and memorable