Hay Festival 2019: speakers' favourite travel books

As the iconic Hay Festival rolls around for another year, seven of the festival's speakers share their all-time favourite travel readsMonday, 8 April 2019

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Chris Smith
I love South by Sir Ernest Shackleton. In 1914, 28 men, 70 dogs and a cat called Mrs Chippy set sail for Antarctica. Their story is one of the most amazing you’ll ever read, so start with the account from the group leader, Sir Ernest himself. Spoiler: it doesn’t end well for the cat.

Chris is the co-author (with Greg James) of Kid Normal and the Shadow Machine, published by Bloomsbury Children’s.

Tishani Doshi
Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is written as a series of imagined conversations between Calvino’s Marco Polo and the Emperor Kublai Khan. It touches on the seduction of ‘elsewhere’ — probably the most potent idea of travel — and the realisation of how little really belongs to the traveller.

Tishani is the author of Small Days and Nights, published by Bloomsbury (out 18 April).

Dustin Lance Black
Michael Cunningham’s Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown was the first travel book I read that felt like a complete narrative, not just a description of a location. Arguably, a mark of the book’s success is that after reading it, I booked a trip to Provincetown in the hope of meeting some of the book’s characters.     

Dustin is the author of Mama’s Boy, published by John Murray (out 30 May).

Alys Conran
I’m in love with Kathleen Jamie’s book Sightlines. She explores Spanish caves, Shetland bird reserves, whale museums in Bergen, and the Northern Lights of Greenland, bringing to them to life with her vivid words. Wherever I am, when I walk outside after reading this book, I find my surroundings enlivened, vital and in focus like never before.

Alys is the author of Dignity, published by W&N. 

Tony Juniper
Tree of Rivers by John Hemming tells the story of the Amazon rainforest. It’s a wonderful book by the former director of the Royal Geographical Society, and includes accounts of early European exploration, including the first passage along most of the length of the Amazon from Ecuador to the Atlantic Ocean.

Tony is the author of Rainforest, published by Profile Books.

Paul Davies
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate travel book. Of course, it’s all science fiction, but interwoven in the absurd narrative are profound insights into the human condition. I travel a lot and knowing that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42 helps me hold it all together.

Paul is the author of The Demon in the Machine, published by Allen Lane.

Dr Giles Yeo
It would be a Bill Bryson book for sure, but I would struggle to choose between two of my favourites. As a transplanted Californian in Cambridge, I truly appreciated his view of the UK in Notes from a Small Island, which I read when I first moved to the UK — it actually helped with my immense culture shock! On the other hand, while in Australia for my honeymoon, I read ‘Down Under’; it was wonderful to have it accompany us as we visited the Antipodes for the very first time.

Dr Giles is the author of Gene Eating, published by Seven Dials (Orion Books).

Hay Festival takes place 23 May-2 June in Hay-on-Wye.

Published in the May 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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