Wednesday, December 2, 2009


It's cold in Michigan and the days are short - perfect conditions for reading. Since I just bought our plane tickets for Paris, travel is more than ever on my mind. The dining room table is piled high with travel books: novels, journals, histories and reveries. I've decided to share a few with you so here is:

Travel Oyster's 1st List of Great Travel Books

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris
Drawings by Gioia Fiammenghi
Doubleday & Company, Inc.
New York, 1958

The captivating story of a London cleaning woman with an overwhelming desire to own a Dior gown. With a little bit of luck and a lot of scrimping and saving, Mrs. 'Arris goes to Paris to fulfill her improbable dream. So charming is the story that I'm able to forgive its dated 1950s attitude toward women. The City of Paris glitters in this innocent tale that is above all a story of the power of dreams to propel us into the unknown, the universality of longing and the ability of love and friendship to transcend language and custom.

Possession, A Romance
Vintage Books
New York, 1990.

Possession moves back and forth in time as it tells the story of a pair of young, modern-day academics researching the lives of two Victorian-era poets. London, Yorkshire and the mysterious fog-shrouded interiors of Brittany in France play starring roles in this literary tour de force. Byatt writes her characters' letters, sonnets and poems so wonderfully and so convincingly that you wish that her poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Cristabel LaMotte, were real characters whose books you could buy. This is a beautifully-written, intelligent book brimming with mystery, myth and romance. The masterful plot compels you on to the finish, but as with all great books, you're sorry to reach that last page. No matter. Possession is such a full and rich book that you can read it more than once.

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains
Dover Publications, 2003
Originally published 1879.

To download a free online version, click here.

The old maxim, "there's no place like home," had no appeal for Isabella Bird. Born in England in 1831, Bird was a sickly woman at home, but blossomed in faraway lands. As she travelled the world, she published books about her exploits. This one, written in 1873, is an account of her trip into the then untamed territory of Colorado. Traveling alone, Isabella confronts bandits and grizzly bears; fords cold, raging rivers; and kills poisonous snakes. She meets and is wooed by "Mountain Jim" Nugent, a notorious, hard-drinking, hard-living desperado with a penchant for poetry, who tells his story to Isabella "with a rush of wild eloquence that was truly thrilling." Together they climb the 14,259-foot high Longs Peak, herd cattle, chop wood and survive fierce mountain snow storms. The book is written as a series of letters to Isabella's sister in England and is a fascinating tale told by a very surprising Victorian woman.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
by Marcella Hazan
Alfred A. Knopf, New York

While a cookbook may seem like an odd choice for a Travel Book List, food is so central to the travel experience in Italy that I've decided to include one. This is my favorite - a book that will take you on a gastronomic journey through one of the world's great cuisines. Before 1861, Italy was not a nation, but rather a diverse group of regions with their own dialects and cooking styles. Those regional differences might make Italy difficult to govern, but they provide the rest of us with food that is varied, nuanced and surprisingly different from region to region. This book is well organized, chatty without being cute, packed with interesting information and, most importantly, full of great recipes. Hazan has a relaxed and friendly style that makes it easy to imagine yourself sitting in her kitchen drinking coffee while she gives you pointers on the Tuscan Bean Soup that is simmering on the stove.

Coast to Coast
A Journey Across 1950s America
Travelers' Tales, San Francisco
1956, 2002

The sparkling prose of this first book by the English writer Jan Morris shows why she was to become one of the world's great travel essayists. Beginning in New York "with its sharp edges and fiery colors," Morris spent a year traveling by car, train, boat and plane across an America that now seems a nostalgic dream. Forty-six years after the book first appeared in print, Morris wrote: "I had come from a Britain that was still war-scarred, poverty-stricken, and disillusioned, and found an America bursting with bright optimism, generous, unpretentious, proud of its recent victories, basking in its universal popularity but still respectful of older nations. I did not know it then, and nor did America, but chance had brought me across the Atlantic at the very apex of American happiness." Part travelogue and part cultural history, Coast to Coast is above all a journey of discovery that is as fresh today as it was when it was written more than 50 years ago.

Happy reading,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. I love the book idea. I now have two people on my Christmas gift list checked off thanks to you

  2. I loved your list. Especially seeing Marcella Hazan's book, which is one of my all-time favorites!

  3. Oh, some of these I've not heard of before, Geraldine! I agree--Hazan's book is a gem. Now you're making me think, on this dreary day on the road, that I'd love some of that comforting soup you described.

  4. Nice collection of travel books. I hope, These books will be very beneficial for the travelers.

    You can take more information about Traveling online, please visit the website

  5. Just saw Jan Morris in October. Well into her eighties. Delightful, feisty and amazing


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