This has been an introspective time for many of us, forced to delve deep into our own personal sources of enjoyment to stave off the lockdown boredom. Amongst any concern or ambiguity over the path forward from lockdown, a constancy to fall back on is the comfort and joy of the written word. Transporting, elating, and informing, stories from across the world can help us to stay connected with the feeling of adventure and discovery that we all so dearly miss.
Geographical’s contributors have picked some of their favourite reads on the theme of ‘staying connected’. Here, you will find mesmerising stories from around the world. For the home-bound literary traveller, the opportunity for excitement and discovery lies in every page.
Daniel Hume – Naturalist, wilderness adventurer and survival skills expert
I’ve been curious about other parts of the world since as long as I can remember. We all are in some way. For me it started with the nettle patch at the bottom of the garden as a seven-year-old but that boundary quickly extended to the local fields and forests close to my home in Suffolk, and ultimately to some some of the remotest regions on earth. Books have always been one of the main foundations upon which inspiration has flowed to me. Even before you’ve read a word, the smell of a good book can bring immense curiosity - one of the initial stages of adventure, if you will. For me, it’s where journeys begin, whether that’s a mental journey from the comfort of home or among the rainforest or arctic tundra.
One of the most enlightening and inspirational reads for me is The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace. I started this book several years ago just before a long trip across Indonesia. Even though I continued reading while travelling from island to island - the pages getting splashed by the very salt water I was reading about - in reality I didn’t really need to be there. Wallace’s descriptions are vivid and entrancing and take you on an arguably unmatched voyage of discovery.
Another gem, this time set in the heart of Africa, is The Forest People by Colin Turnbull. The author explores the Pygmie’s love for their forest home and of their community. A powerful, transporting read at this time.
For a hefty dose of stoicism, delve into Samuel Hearne’s masterpiece, A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean.
Among the challenges many of us face there is an immensely valuable opportunity to ponder life’s direction, to learn about other places and cultures and make plans for the future.
Daniel Hume is the author of The Art of Fire: Step by step guide to starting, building and handling fires, a fantastic 2017 book exploring our primordial connections to fire. Daniel will be donating profits from sales of his book through his website to the Phillipines COVID-19 relief fund.
Martine Croxall – Journalist and BBC News presenter
My work consists of telling our viewers about the pandemic for hours at a time. The deaths have climbed into the tens of thousands, but each is an individual tragedy. It is deeply affecting to report the march of Covid-19. When I am off shift, I try to find a distraction.
Books have always been a comfort. They’re even more of a salve during the lockdown.
There’s a lot of talk about how the environment is reacting to us staying at home. In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells of how Nature responds when left to its own devices. She writes about the pioneering 'Knepp experiment' in Sussex, where free-roaming grazing animals have created new wildlife habitats on an unprofitable farm. It’s a sobering reminder of how often humankind just gets in the way. Imagine if the project were extended beyond 1400 hectares in south east England…
We’ve all had to get used to less social contact. Solitude is easier for some than others. Tove Jansson’s, The Summer Book describes how a small girl and her grandmother adjust to each other’s idiosyncrasies as they share long days on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland “disturbed only by migrating birds, sudden storms and an occasional passing boat.”
If literature offers solace, so too does music. Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill suggests a piece of classical music for every day of the year, accompanied by a summary of why she chose it. Lots to discover for the novice and the expert.
Tim Marshall – Journalist, author and broadcaster in geopolitics
I'm lucky - I get to read stuff for pleasure that's also for work. This lockdown I'm taking a leisurely walkabout through The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes as part of research for a new book. It's a factual tale of the birth pangs of Australia, and is probably the most accessible in-depth source available. His breadth and detail on the Aboriginal peoples, and origins of the convicts who suddenly appeared on their shores is stunning.
I don't read enough fiction and have taken the opportunity to revisit Ivo Andric's The Bridge on the Drina. Its central character is a bridge in Visegrad, Bosnia and the story is of those who cross it over 4 centuries, the Ottomans, Serbs, Austrians etc. as it acts as bridge between east and west. I first read it as a primer while covering the Bosnian war in the 1990s and found it a brilliant guide to the complexities of the Balkans and given the tensions which still simmer, its as relevant as ever.
I've just finished Goliath by Sean McFate. The sub-title is 'why the West isn't winning, and what we need to do about it' which sets the tone for a book which is opinionated, but the opinion is from a former paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division who holds a PhD in International Relations from the LSE.
Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography is a favourite of Geographical’s, a New York Times Best Seller and #1 Sunday Times bestseller. In 2018, he authored ‘Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls’. His books are available here.
Mary-Ann Ochota – Broadcaster and anthropologist
We’re moving into a phase of pandem-mania that feels less immediately horrifying, and much, much more attritional. A perfect time to immerse ourselves in worlds beyond our own.
First, go to sea, with Eric Newby in The Last Grain Race. This visceral, personal account of leaving a job in an advertising agency and joining one of the last four-masted sailing ships plying the grain trade between Australia and Britain is funny, scary, quietly emotional and hugely engrossing. Adrift from a world lurching towards World War Two, Newby and his shipmates have little but each other and their ship. It makes me want to run away to sea and run away from the sea, all at once.
The novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind should, I think, be mandatory reading for all geographers and anthropologists. Why? Because its anti-hero navigates the world by scent. It’s a reminder that others experience the world in very different ways – even from our same species. Assume nothing.
Balzac and the Little Chinese SeamstressBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie is a semi-autobiographical tale about seeking knowledge – and freedom – in a scary world. The unnamed narrator has been sent to the Sichuan countryside as part of his re-education during the Cultural Revolution. He finds friendship, hardship and escape from the day-to-day. The story is short, absorbing and it feels perfect for now.
Mary-Ann Ochota FRGS has a new book out this September, Secret Britain: Unearthing Our Mysterious Past. You can also see her exploring British archaeology on the TV series Mystic Britain, airing now on Smithsonian Channel (Freeview channel 99). @MaryAnnOchota
Katie Burton – Editor, Geographical
One of the main pleasures of editing a magazine like Geographical is reading, and in doing so, feeling more connected to other countries, cultures and experiences. Whether it be the articles that get sent to us from freelancers all around the world, or the books we recommend each month in our reviews page, reading and learning makes up a large part of the job, which is an enormous privilege.
Some of my favourite reads have been books I have reviewed in Geographical. To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova opened my eyes to a region I knew little about. Both heartbreakingly sad and vibrantly hopeful, I finished it almost breathless.
Caroline Crampton's The Way to the Sea was another favourite. A more gentle affair, it traces the River Thames from source to sea with a special focus on the estuary. Interweaving family, social and urban history, it certainly made me feel more connected to the city I have always called home (and probably always will).
And finally, a book I always turn to when in need of a bit of inspiration, or just a laugh. A A Gill is Away by the late A A Gill is often rude, irreverent and always witty. A trouble-maker perhaps, but an undoubted master of travel writing.