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Travel: Tasty trail mix, packed with exotic titbits

Books Of The Year

Kate Simon
Sunday 11 December 2011 01:00 GMT

Laugh? I nearly did. The libertarian P J O'Rourke is an acquired taste and to this socialist he was, perhaps, fated not to appeal.

But there will be many takers for the acerbic wit in his latest book, Holidays in Heck (Grove Press, £16.99). The sequel to his memoirs as a war correspondent, Holidays in Hell, it is a collection of stories from the ski slopes of Ohio to the pastures of Kyrgyzstan about the far more harrowing perils of the family vacation.

AA Gill Is Further Away (Orion, £20) is a study in the art of observation. Gill's ability to focus on a scene, describe it, deconstruct it and extrapolate from it is used to great comic effect in this selection of essays from his travels. A moment in Stockholm's Grand Hotel, the hangout of Nobel prize-winners, is a typical gem: "The lobby has a special Nobel desk, manned by ever-helpful young blondes. I imagine it's there to arrange courtesy cars and woolly hats, but I also like to imagine they help worried laureates with intractable computations and missing theorems."

Paul Theroux is both writer and narrator in his latest book, The Tao of Travel (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99), in which he gathers together some of the words that inspired him to spend the past 50 years wandering the world. This book of "Enlightenments from Lives on the Road" records in great detail the pleasure and pain of travel, according to esteemed voices from Samuel Johnson to Evelyn Waugh. It's a curious collection that will frustrate or delight – one for the dipping reader.

Colin Thubron provides a more fulfilling read with To a Mountain in Tibet (Chatto & Windus, £16.99), an account of a very personal, secular pilgrimage he made to the holy mountain of Kailas after the death of his mother. Thubron's poetic language opens our eyes not only to the elemental beauty of the physical environment through which he travels, but the harsh lives of the people who live within it, unveiling a deeply spiritual place that cannot escape the grim, worldly reality of poverty.

The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley (Ebury, £9.99) is a celebration of man's relationship with the great outdoors. Gooley, a fellow of the Royal Navigation and Royal Geographic societies, could have turned out a dry bit of Boy's Own indulgence here. Instead, he's crafted an eminently readable book that can't fail to intrigue the most unscientific mind with its simply expressed practical guide to how to literally follow your nose – indeed, all your senses – to find your way around the world.

The nostalgic design and tone of Britain Goes Camping by Don Philpott (National Trust, £16.99) may be reminiscent of Baden-Powell's dubious classic Scouting for Boys, but the choice of subject taps into the current trend for getting under canvas. Everything you need to know, from the first strike of mallet on peg, is in this exhaustive guide: choosing a tent, one-pot campfire cooking, backwoodsmanship. And there's a handy directory of campsites on National Trust land, too.

The Khyber Pass, the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Silk Road ... Great Journeys (Lonely Planet, £29.99) is this year's ultimate picture book. This coffee-table selection of 78 famous and lesser-known trails across the globe indulges the reader with just the right balance of glorious images and insightful commentary.

Kate Simon is Travel Editor of The Independent on Sunday

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