Dec 2013 TBRTwo travel books under review today, both visible on that front row of my TBR to your left. One is based in the UK, one is more exotic; both were good reads; one was by a writer who I’ve always found very engaging, one was by one who I found a bit less so. Intriguing, eh? I do love a good travel book – do you? I’ve travelled with books to places I’d never travel on my own, and while a good novel can help you to understand what it’s like to live somewhere, a good travel book will give you so many insights in a different way.

Johnny Bealby – “Silk Dreams, Troubled Road”

(27 April 2013, BookCrossing meetup)

This came to me at a BookCrossing meetup, unregistered, so I popped a BCID into it and released it on a book share table at a book event I attended last week.

An inveterate, indeed compulsive traveller, after many years on the road and a share of tragedies, Bealby falls in love with an intriguing and rather difficult woman and plans the ultimate road trip with her. When the woman of his dreams bails on him, the TV deal that he’s already got forces him to search for a new travelling companion to help to make the film he’s promised, and feature in it herself as a potential romantic interest.

Much of the book covers this search and the acclimatisation of the woman he selects to Pakistan, at the beginning of his planned journey along the famed Silk Road, and to travelling with him, which proves somewhat more difficult … and the ultimate, unsurprising, disappointment. Actually, salt is rubbed into the wound in a way which does make you feel a bit sorry for him, although it does seem rather a fool’s errand in the first place. The rest of the book details the actual journey, including buying horses, learning their ways and travelling through some of the most amazing scenery in the world.

While Bealby is clear about his own role in the personal issues and romantic let-downs, and talks about what he learns along the way, this aspect reads a bit like a presentation at a corporate motivation seminar. He seems unapologetic about how difficult he is to live with, which isn’t hugely appealing, and then there’s a bit too much soul-searching about his need for ‘authenticity’ which doesn’t really work if you haven’t engaged that much with him in the first place. However, there is good writing and memorable characters, both human and equine.

Disappointing that there are no illustrations, except for those on the cover, although a film was made (laboriously and playing its part in adding to the difficulty of the journey) and the companion was supposed to be producing sketches. An interesting read with a different back story.

Hunter Davies – “Behind the Scenes at the Museum of Baked Beans”

(11 May 2013)

Bought from The Works because Hunter Davies is one of those authors whose name on a book will compel me to read that book (even if said book is about the Beatles or football, both subjects on which I’m not that keen, but I know he’s written books about them, and I will buy them if I see them). Do you have authors like that, who are guaranteed to provide an enjoyable read for you and who you will automatically pick up?

In this book, he visits single-topic museums in the UK whose founders still run the museum, covering topics from the Armstrong Clan to baked beans, via fans, lawnmowers, teddy bears, cars belonging to famous people and more. He also muses on his own collections, the nature of collecting and what he plans to do with his collections, pinning the narrative around a search for a solution to his own building collections in a way which sometimes grates a tiny bit – it doesn’t actually need that, as the narrative itself is interesting enough.

But the main parts of the book, describing the museums, some of what he learns from them, his confusion when presented with so much information on esoteric topics, and his encounters with the founders, is excellent, and he celebrates the range of subjects and people he meets without ever being snide or joking at their expense. You get a good feel for them all, and there’s an update at the end, too, which explains what he decides to do with some of his collections, and updates us on the progress of some of the places he has visited.

A charming and highly enjoyable meander through the more eccentric byways of British life, told with genuine affection.

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I’m currently reading a book about Iris Murdoch’s work which I’d forgotten I was reading (but goes well with my next review, so I’m glad I remembered it in the pile by my bedside), a psychoanalytical study of Tony Blair in his early years as leader of the Labour Party (by the author who brought us that Margaret Thatcher book) and a good novel about women on a fitness boot camp sent by a good friend.

What are you reading in the run-up to Christmas? And who’s the author whose name guarantees that you will pick up a book, whatever the subject?