Monday, 16 May 2011

Reading & Travel

Funny how here in NW Libraries we have just launched Reading Places, a promotion of travel writing and in the same week The Independent published in its "i" paper (Thurs p 35) a top ten list of travel books:
Arabian Sands – William Thesiger
Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
Journey to Portugal – Jose Saramago
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
A Wounded Civilization – V S Naipaul
The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
The Road to Oxiana – Robert Byron
The Journals of Captain Cook – James Cook

This is a mixed selection of good writing and includes some classics and older titles as well as contemporary ones and I had selected a number of these myself to feature in our own list, but where are the women? I find it a bit remiss of the Indie not to have included even one woman.

I must admit that a lack of female writers to choose from struck me too while I was looking for titles to promote on our own site. There are obvious reasons why women found it harder to travel in the past and I LOVE this qoutation from George Eliot Daniel Deronda, Book II, Chapter 13, p135 (Penguin).
We women can't go in search of adventure - to find out the North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. We must stay where we grow, or where the gardeners like to transplant us. We are brought up like the flowers, to look as pretty as we can, and be dull without complaining. That is my notion about the plants: they are often bored, and that is the reason why some of them have got poisonous.
Times have most definitely changed and a moment's research soon comes up with plenty of female travel writers . The easiest possible hunt on Amazon today displays 2,829 results for Women Travellers in a list that includes lots of handbooks and guides for independent women, especially those travelling alone. There are collections of comic writing, descriptions by fearless adventurers and cautionary tales for the inexperienced and unwary.

Wonderful Virago published a collection in the early 1990s edited by Mary Morris, surveying 300 years of travel writing in which women are observers of the world in which they wander; their prose rich in description, remarkable in detail. This is now on my "books to read soon" list.

What also strikes me about the Indie's list is that several of the writers included are known as novelists as well- George Orwell, Jose Saramago, Joseph Steinbeck, VS Naipaul. Is this something that men find easier than women- moving seemlessly between different sorts of writing? I wonder. There are probably lots of female novelists who have also published memoirs and travel descriptions- but who are they? I can think of Kate Grenville who wrote the highly recommended novel about early settlers in Australia The Secret River, and then followed up with a memoir Searching For the Secret River, about her family and the inspiration for the novel. Are there other examples like this?

It would be good to be able to add to the short list of Women travel writers on this website, so do get in touch with your own ideas.

In the meantime I hope you will discover one or two titles to read on our site- we have given you a lot more than 10 to select from. And please send us a photo of yourself reading on your travels, whether that's to somewhere exotic or just as far as your back garden.


  1. "We women can't go in search of adventure - to find out the North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. "

    Love that quote Jane :)

  2. maybe not strictly a travel writer but Annie Hawes series of books about her move to Italy and her new life there are funny, interesting and a really good read.

    Also 'A House in Fez' by Suzanne Clarke is a fascinating insight into Moroccan life.

    Then there's Carol Drinkwater's books about her olive farm in France and her travels to discover 'The Olive Route'.

    Then there's Susie Kelly's series of books about her travels and move to France.

    All brilliant reads!