BOOKS: TRAVEL BOOKS

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The Independent Culture
SOMETIMES it seems as if everyone who's driven across America, slung on a backpack or travelled to the mystic east has come home and written a book about it. There are the celebrities (Theroux, Chatwin, Cahill); the rest come in three categories,divisible by title. The first is the what-larks brigade, like Maria Coffey's A Boat in our Baggage: Around the World with a Kayak (Abacus, £6.99) with a fetching cover pic of Ms Coffey squatting with said canoe ("As a globe-trotting transport, it may have seemed a curious choice..."). The second favours the whimsical: Travels in a Thin Country by Sara Wheeler (Abacus, £6.99); that's Chile, by the way. Books in this category are often curiously high-concept: A Fez of the Heart by Jeremy Seal (Picador, £15.99) is "an informative and sympathetic account of modern Turkey's dilemmas - illuminated by the author's compendious knowledge of Turkish headgear". Around the World on Expenses by Peter Biddlecombe (Little, Brown, £15.99) sounds like an envy-inducing account of journo freebies, but no; Biddle-combe is a business traveller, and his book has the purposeful tone of a man who has work to do in Kinshasa, Buenos Aires and Singapore. "Say that [Brazilian soap] Doce do Amor is the greatest thing since sliced coffee beans and the deal is yours," he advises shrewdly. The book jacket is sniffy about "gimmick tourists... crossing the Sahara naked on a skateboard". Who can they mean?

Most popular are the faintly enigmatic titles: Joe Roberts' Three-Quarters of a Footprint (Bantam, £14.99) details his travels in South India; doughty lone widow Sheila Paine travels from the Hindu Kush to Razgrad in The Afghan Amulet (Penguin, £6.99), and South African Dan Jacobson "sets off in the footsteps of the traders, elephant hunters, missionaries and imperial dreamers" in The Electronic Elephant (Penguin, £6.99). There's a lot of this footstep business: Daniel Farson goes "Down the Volga and across the Caucasus in my father's footsteps" in A Dry Ship to the Mountains (Penguin, £6.99). Sans skateboard and fully clothed, of course.

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