“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all around he world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
Roald Dahl, Matilda.
10 Things I Like about You Pt 3: Old Skool
Roald Dahl had the right idea. There’s something visceral about holding a book and disappearing into the dusty pages. Every year thousands of travelogues are published, documenting everything from the Northern Lights to hiking the Appalachian, so there is no lack of people to live through vicariously. Chancing across Context, a tour company that curates walking tours for the historically savvy traveller, it seemed almost natural to contemplate the more historical aspects of my own country.
There are a ton of travel books. Skipping past all the Lonely Planets, Fodors and Rick Steves, I wander into the section marked history by the Dewey Decimal System. First thing that hits you is how many ways you can travel: Crowdfunding, Twitter, Instagram, even a guy who bartered his way across the world and ended up with a house in Hawaii. So no excuses now…
I pottered through a couple of them, enjoying the roller coaster ride as they met general odd bodies around the world. A lot of them were focused on travel as a task, ie: we’ll high five this monument and move on. However, when I lack inspiration, I look for the storytellers. When I was little, my dad used to say if you can write a thousand words about a blank wall, you’re a writer (I have yet to understand the correlation). While it didn’t turn me into a writer per se, I still enjoy a good tale: ones that inspire a good case of wanderlust and a hankering for more airplane miles.
But I digress. We were talking about how to rediscover the island and what not. So here are my top 5 books to keep you a-moseying.
1. The Neil Humphreys Island series
Okay, random ang moh explores Singapore. Real original. Despite the cliché, Humphreys is hilarious. The series of 4 takes you a hop, skip and sweaty jump though Singapore with the clueless kid from Dagenham. Thrown into the deep end in Toa Payoh (my backyard!), his quirky perspective and tongue-in-cheek style is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes. Reading on the MRT, I proceeded to terrify the people around me as I laughed out loud about how he came across the aunties who hoard plastic bags in their bras and uncles cleaning their nails in the station. His last book, Return to a Sexy Island, was the perfect coming home book. He hits up all the new locations in Singapore. Some like Marina Bay Sands and our Avatar-esque Gardens by the Bay are pretty typical, while others, like the new art storage at the airport I had never heard of.
Aside from providing more info about places to wander to any guidebook, I also vowed that an ang moh couldn’t know more about Singapore than me. Sometimes when the sun’s at full scorch mode, I need a little incentive to leave the aircon. Unfortunately, unlike the intrepid Caucasian, I did not see any version of Mas Selamat. There was a limping man but wrong leg.
2. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
If you liked No Reservations by Bourdain, Orwell was the original kitchen bad-ass. His first full length book documents his travels as a tramp in London and later a dishwasher in Paris. Originally called “A Scullion’s Diary”, Orwell takes you into a world lit by smoky gaslight, sprinkled with a healthy dose of seediness and iced with an overtone of adventure that is like crack for the off the beaten path traveller.
3. ANYTHING by Bill Bryson
Read. Laugh. Flip. Repeat. Enough Said. My favourite is Neither Here nor There.
4. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
I feel slightly cheated that this is about to be turned into a movie because chances are more people will see the movie then take the time to read the book. The premise is not unusual. Based on Strayed’s life, it documents her strained family relationship and battle with drugs. At 26, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the swirlie-giving older brother of the Appalacian, with next no prior experience. Documenting the trip from a memoirist’s perspective, Strayed tackles the loneliness, bouts of self-doubt and re-evaluation that comes with wandering on your own. Made me think about how I tell my own travel narrative. Somethings, like the pretty pictures are easily shared but there are stories and changes only you know.
5. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
The book opens with this
“ From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.”
Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
Long-term travel has always been a dream of mine. There are times, especially near deadlines when I think of packing it all in and teaching English in France. Potts documents all the different ways to get you around the world. A nice literary slap in the face when I bemoan the expense of travel. Read and proceed 🙂
Let us know what your favourite reads are! We both have Nooks that need a little filling up!
Also, on a happy note, itspronouncedaj just started a store with some of our photos. If you like what you see, check out her store at Society Six.