10 Books

Thursday, 23 December 2010

There were lots of interesting books in 2010 – fiction and non-fiction, travel and standing still. Here are 10 I found particularly interesting, starting with 5 travel books:

Country DrivingCountry Driving – Peter Hessler’s look at contemporary China from behind the steering wheel was my favourite travel book of the year. China today zig zags from weird to wonderful to downright scary and this book perfectly captures that acute variability.

Map Addict – Mike Parker is a clearly an anorak, British slang for a train-spotter (which come to think of it is British slang as well). Anyway he’s a geek, a nerd and obsessed with maps. A Tale of Obsession the byline says. It is.

* One of the many little information gems in Map Addict: what do these four countries have in common: Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, Yemen and the USA? They’re the only countries which still officially use imperial weights and measures.

Atlas of Remote Islands – and so is Judith Schalansky, the German author and designer of this delightful sideways look at 50 strange islands. The sort of places which, like the author, you’re unlikely to ever visit. I’ve managed to set foot on just 5 of them.

The ExplorersThe Explorers – Tim Flannery has done some pretty tough exploring himself – I also read his book of PNG exploration, Throwim Way Leg – but this is a collection of excerpts from books about the exploration of Australian. It was often a decidedly fraught, dangerous and tough experience.

Hello Dubai – Joe Bennett captures the essentially weirdness of what has to be the world’s weirdest big city, for the moment. And some cricket.

And now 5 novels, all of them with a travel connection:

In a Strange RoomJeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi – Every Geoff Dyer book seems to go off in a different tangent and this one is no exception, the two halves of the book seem to have absolutely no connection. Except the Jeff in the Venice half could be the same Jeff in the Varanasi half?

In a Strange Room – Damon Galgut’s novel made it to the 2010 Booker Prize shortlist and it’s essentially three travel stories, set in Greece, Africa and finally India. None of them turn out very well and, as in the Geoff Dyer book, India prompts one of the characters to go right off the rails.

Two States2 States – I met Chetan Bhagat early in the year, soon after the film 3 Idiots, based on his novel 5 Point Someone, became the biggest grossing Bollywood film ever. I finally saw the film on a Singapore Airlines flight later in the year. And mid-year Chetan was also on Time Magazine’s ‘World 100’ list. I thought 2 States was a nice little  page turner and a great insight into the collision between modern and traditional India.

Harvest SeasonHarvest Season – Chris Taylor was an LP author working on our China, Tibet and Japan books and his first novel is a bit like a Chinese version of The Beach. At the moment it’s only available from a small publisher in Hong Kong, hopefully it will get wider distribution. Click here for an interview with Chris.

Broken Glass – Alain Mabanckou’s tale of the misfits in a Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) bar is laugh-out-loud funny, even if (like me) you don’t get most of the French literary references.