Book list of 2021: travel journals, Turkey, Dave Eggers, life stories and more

2021 was a great year for reading books. Locked away in our homes battling covid-19 by doing basically nothing, time shaped itself around the books I read. In this book blog I take you along in my year of reading in 2021. The list takes in 25 books in total, so averaging about one book per two weeks.

Travelling, of course, remained a big theme in this year’s reading list. But I ventured out. The first months were filled with relatively heavy books, including books on the war in Syria, the Arab Spring, Turkish recent history and, late rin the year, Canadia’s dark past and present of its non-acknowledgment of its native inhabitants.

This was followed by (almost) finalising reading the complete Dave Eggers oeuvre up until 2020. This year I also read more Dutch authors, which I hadn’t done in a while. Most of them travel authors, but one other book stands out, a book I hope willl be translated to English: I will live my Life by Dutch-Turkish author Lale Gül.

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

1. My top reads of 2021

It is always incredible hard to pick favourites but I think this is my Top 4 books I read in 2021.

  1. Interpreter of Maladies – by Jhumpa Lahiri
  2. The Monk of Mokha – by Dave Eggers
  3. No Turning Back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria – Rania Abouzeid
  4. Ik Ga Leven (I will live my Life) – by Lale Gül

Apparently the main theme of this year was the clash and meeting of cultures. Some stories hopeful, others heart-wrenching, these books stuck with me. Each of these books has deeper meaning than just the story itself. It tells something about the world we live in today. I would recommend each of these books to put on your 2022 or 2023 reading list if you haven’t read them yet.

2. Four books by kick-ass women travellers: Miriam Lancewood, Tamar Valkenier, Cheryl Strayed and Carolijn Visser

At the start of this year I chose to seek out travel stories again, despite the fact travelling seemed a far away occupation at the start of the year. Three female travellers deserve a mention here, each telling the tale of their life changing choices to disconnect from mainstream society, pick up their backpack and ‘just’ go.

Mijn Leven in de Wildernis: Van de Achterhoek naar Nieuw-Zeeland (Woman in the Wilderness) – Miriam Lancewood

  • category: autobiography, travel journal
  • year: 2017
  • publisher: Hachette Collections
  • 336 pages

Nederlandse editie: Mijn Leven in de Wildernis – Van de Achterhoek naar Nieuw-Zeeland, Kosmos uitgevers, 2017

Miriam Lancewood is an amazing perosnality the Dutch audience got to know through her appearance in a 2016 episode of the long running TV-programma Floortje Naar het Einde van de Wereld. This book is her tale of her rediscovery of nature and detachment from mainstream society. Together with her partner Peter, Miriam takes to the mountains of New Zealand trying to live mostly from what she hunts and gathers from nature. It is an honest personal story pf the day to day concerns and her somewhat philosophical and lyrical reflections on them. This book is an inspiration to read, staying away from too literary writing.

Want to know more about Miriam? Check out where you can also find her second book Wild at Heart.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed

  • category: autobiography, travel journal
  • year: 2012
  • publisher: Vintage
  • 336 pages

Nederlandse editie: Wild. Over jezelf verliezen, terugvinden en 1700 kilometer hiken, Luijtingh-Sijthoff Uitgevers, 2021

At first I hesitated reading this book. It seemed so hyped. I found it listed on every ‘best books about travel’-blog you can find out there. But I am glad I did pick it up in the end. ‘Wild’ is an incredibly well-written book that goes beyond a mere travel journal. There is a reason Oprah put it her on her book list (btw somehow we bought the Oprah-annotated edition which was actually quite fun!). The book tells the tale of a young Americanwoman that sets herself a daunting task, to walk across states along the Pacific Crest Trail, to get away from it all. And to get back to herself. She even walks the trail practically barefoot at one point. The book is a great reminder what anyone is capable off if you set your mind to it but the pages don’t cover up how hard the road can be.

Fulltime Avonturier: Over alles achterlaten en de zoektocht naar ultieme vrijheid (Full Time adventurer: About leaving everything behind and the search for ultimate freedom) – Tamar Valkenier

Foto van Travelaar
  • category: travel journal
  • year: 2021
  • publisher: Kosmos Uitgevers
  • 256 pages

The Dutch edition was published in 2021. Tamar announces an English edition on her website!

De Kapers van Miskitia (The pirates of Miskitia and other stories) in ‘Onder Indianan en Goudzoekers’ (Amongst Indians and Gold Diggers) – Carolijn Visser

  • category: travel journal, travel journamlism
  • year: 1997 (re-published in parts in 2001)
  • publisher: Meulenhof Amsterdam
  • 249 pages

Helas, Carolijn Visser’s books have not been translated to English, and even in Dutch her travel books are not in print anymore. What a shame! We read this book as part of ‘Onder Indianen en Goudzoekers’ (Amongst Indians and Gold Diggers), an old book we still had from earlier browsing in second hand book markets.

I want to acknowledge that the use of the word ‘indians’ is no longer the term we want to describe indigenous peoples with. However, this is the original title in Dutch of the book.

This book is one of several accounts of Carolijn Visser’s travels to Central America in the 1980s-1990s. After having travelled to the Miskitia coast independently, she and her Australian partner Wayne take up residence in the unlikely northeastern corner of Nicaragua. She meets the most unlikely characters, both locals and westerners, that eek out an existence on the Carribean coast of Nicaragua in the aftermath of the civil war between Sandistas and Contras. It makes for excellent reading without becoming a history lesson. Carolijn Visser lets herself be driven by curiosity at every moment.

3. A Dutch travel professor: Travelling is the smart thing to do

Ap Dijksterhuis is both a psychology professor and an enthusiastic traveller. The combination makes for some great reading! Definitely recommended reading, especially ‘Wie (niet) reist is gek’.

Wie (niet) reist is gek (Those [not] travelling are mad) – Ap Dijksterhuis

  • category: travel journal, popular science (psychology)
  • year: 2018
  • publisher: Prometheus
  • 184 pages

This book takes scientific facts about how the brain works and mixes that with travel anecdotes. It is very succesful blend of the two.

Wegwee: Dwars door Azië van Tokio naar Tblisi (Fernweh: Across Asia from Tokyo to Tblisi) – Ap Dijksterhuis

  • category: travel journal
  • year: 2021
  • publisher: Prometheus
  • 432 pages

Fun to read this is a classic travelogue following that author on his travels around Asia. It doesn’t have the sharpness of his other book, but still, there are few contemporary Dutch travel writers that are this pleasant to read.

4. Recent Middle-East history: Northern Africa, Turkey and Syria

A Tourist in the Arab Spring – Tom Chesshyre

  • category: non-fiction, travel journal
  • year: 2013
  • publisher: Bradt Travels
  • 256 pages

(This book is also on my 2020 reading list as I started it that year but finished in 2021)

This smoothly written travel journal is what it promises to be: a step by step account of a ’tourist’ trip through Tunesia, Lybia and Egypt as they were just comnig out at the other end from the wave of people’s revolutions in 2011: the so-called Arab Spring, which started in winter time. We didn’t know Bradt published anything other than the travel guides, but if this book by The Times journalist Tom Chesshyre is what they do as well… They should publish more like this.

From bullet ‘mines’ at the former bunkers of Khadafi to the Roman and Greek ruins of Tunesia and Lybia, from Tahrir square to the grand pyramids of Egypt and partying Russians on the Sinai peninsula. A tourist gaze can be a disarming tool. With down to earth writing and an open mind chatting to everyone and their donkeys, Chesshyre took me along for the ride, and I am grateful for it.

No Turning Back – Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria – Rania Abouzeid

  • category: war journalism
  • year: 2018
  • publisher: One World
  • 400 pages

This stunning book will never let you look at the war in Syria with indifference again. Through interwoven stories of different people living it, Rania Abouzeid, paints a grim image of what a revolution-turned-war looks like from the inside. Don’t believe me about how well written this book is, just read this book.

Rebel Land: Unravelling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town – Christopher de Bellaigue

  • category: historical journalism
  • year: 2010
  • publisher: The Penguin Press
  • 288 pages

When a book’s reviews get coloured by opposites of a conflict about what the truth is, I cannot resist to read it. Christopher de Bellaigue aims in this book to unravel the history of conflict in inland Turkey. The reality of Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish and Alevi roots in the region proves so elusive that the book suffers somewhat from the walls the author runs into trying to talk to people and get a straight story out of them. As a sketch of a part of Turkey few people venture into, it is still a fascinating read.

5. Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri

  • category: literature, collection of short stories
  • year: 1999
  • publisher: Mariner Books
  • 198 pages

As I was reading this book I suddenly remembered why I love reading for the pleasure of reading. This collection of stories is so strong, incredibly well written and captivating. Each of the stories has some kind of culture clash or migrant-like theme. But the stories go deeper than that and display real humanity. Or something like that. Just read it, you will not regret it.

6. Travel books by Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer is a travel writer like no other. I read two of his travel books this year. And they slowly but surely reeled me in. Rather than travelogues these books are compositions. Through series of sketches from the road Pico Iyer weaves story lines that go beyond the particular places he visits and the people he meets.

Video night in Kathmandu, and other reports from the not-so-far-east – Pico Iyer

  • category: travel journal, non-fiction literature
  • year: 1988
  • publisher: Vintage
  • 400 pages

In this book from the late 1980s, describing scenes from his travels in the preceding decade, Pico Iyer challenges easy notions of the distinction between East and West. From his own accounts he shows how ‘west’ is slowly being internalised in the ‘east’ with all kinds of unforeseen consequences. In one scene he shows how the opening up of Tibet would change it forever, and how the first travellers of whom he is one, set out the path for others to follow. Never able to see the same they did. But the book is far from nostalgic. I had a good laugh here and there.

Sun after Dark: Flights into the Foreign – Pico Iyer

  • category: travel journal, non-fiction literature
  • year: 2004
  • publisher: Vintage
  • 240 pages

In this book Pico Iyer, again, does not keep to any classic travel book format. Slowly I felt how he switches betwen darker and lighter perspectives on the world through his encounters with Leonard Cohen, the Dalai Lama and others. The book feels like a bridge between his works on meditation and his travel writing.

7. Books from Adventurous Kate’s Book Club

As the covid-19 pandemic deepened I was searching for connection beyond my own circles online. We’d been following Adventurous Kate for years as she is one of the best, most down to earth and inspirational travel bloggers out there. And what did she do during the pandemic? She started a book club (still ongoing in 2022)!

I joined two rounds of reading and thoroighly enjoyed some reading suggestions I’d never have pickes up otherwise. For now, I haven’t been able to keep up the monthly reading (I felt little time was left reading ither ooks that i had on my list too) but this book club keeps turnong up interesting new reads by female writers, often from other countries and backgrounds than mainstream American and European book shelves. Interested? You can join Kate’s Patreon or keep in touch through her newsletter and sign in on individual book club readings.

La Bastarda – Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated by Lawrence Schimel

  • category: fiction literature, lhbtq coming of age
  • year: 2018
  • publisher: Feminist Press
  • 112 pages

Did you ever read a book from an Equatiral Guinean author? I hadn’t either. That is, until Kate’s book club put this on the list. This unusual novelle is set in a couple of villages of Equatorial Guinee, near the border with Gabon. It is a story of how a girl discovers her own sexuality and what that does to her position in the community, a type of narrative that took me by surprise. And there is more to rhe stiry than this mini-summary. For its uniqueness it is compelling to read it, though I wouldn’t say it was my ‘book of the year’.

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City – Tanya Talaga

  • category: literary journalism
  • year: 2017
  • publisher: House of Anansi
  • 304 pages

This book was intense. And sometimes hard to read. Not because it is poorly written. No, the real story is intense and heartwrenching. The book is a must-read if you want to understand the situation of indigenous people in Canada.

8. More Dave Eggers this year

Past year I have been catching up on books by Dave Eggers (check out that separate blog for book descriptions!). Two of the books I loved, the other two … not so much. Have you read any? Let us know in the comments below.

A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers

The Monk of Mokha – Dave Eggers

Zeitoun – Dave Eggers

You Shall Know Our Velocity – Dave Eggers

9. The odd one out: ‘I will live my Life’ (Ik Ga Leven) by Lale Gül

  • category: literature, semi-autobiography
  • year: 2021
  • publisher: Prometheus
  • 304 pages

I almost did not read this book. Glad I did after all. This thought-provoking book tells the story, drawn from the author’s own lofe, of a young woman wrestling her way sway from her orthodox Islamic, Turkish family and social circle. The book is up tempo, reflective and even dares to be erotic. No wonder it was highly controversial for her family. This strong woman dared something few dare to do. And she is paying the price of her having written her story down: most family relations have since cut off contact. Not only a story of the woman in and of itself, the book is also a mirror for Dutch society and very confrontational if you let it be.

10. An English Buddhist in Thailand

Phra Farang – An English Monk in Thailand – Phra Peter Pannapadipo

  • category: memoirs
  • year: 1999
  • publisher: Bangkok Writers
  • 242 pages

After having read his Little Angels when we travelled to thailand a few years back, I still had a copy the memoirs of Phra Farang lying around in our home. Phra farang (Peter) is a Brit who consciously chose life as Buddhist monk, and particularly as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. His journey, vey much the practical and often hilarious side of it, with all culture clashes included, is a pleasant read and gives some depth to Thai culture from a Western perspective.

11. A classic each year

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

  • category: literature
  • year: 1988 (1993 English)
  • publisher: Harper Torch (English)
  • 163 pages

Listed in many place as one of the best books ever written, I found it quite disappointing. The book is about the journey of the shepherd by Santiago seeking his destiny through his travels around the mediterranean. Do read it and form your own opinion. It is thin enough to read through it in just a few hours.

12. Bucket list travel destinations: Madagascar and India

I do not only read books about countries we already know we are travelling to. Sometimes, it is that much more fun ti get inspired by books about destinations we may one day visit. India and Madagascar are two of those countries.

The Eight Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar – Peter Tyson

  • category: natural and social history, partially travelogue
  • year: 2013
  • publisher: Bradt
  • 384 pages

Another Bradt publication I got during covid times to support this magnificent travel guides publisher, this book took me by surprise. In a positive sense, that is. Who would know how interssting the hidden lives and diversity of chameleons and lemurs would be? Mix that with some mysteries about how and why Madagascar’s unique natural life and origins of the human inhabitants seem to be so diverse. And you end up with a fascinating book in your hands. It is a bit of a book for nerdy readers though 😉

If you live in the EU I recommend buying the e-book as cross-border delivery has become more difficult and expensive since Brexit.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

  • category: novel, inspired by real life
  • year: 2003/2005
  • publisher: St. Martins Griffin
  • 944 pages

This book really swept me away. I didn’t know about the book until I came across it in some travel book blogs. I was hooked after a few chapters. In this 900+ page whirlwind of a life story a young man, on the run after a prison escape gets entangled in the city of Bombay and daily life at the edge – or at its core, depending on perspective – of society and the law in India.

13. More Turkey: Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk and a tourist’s view of Anatolia

Travelling for three weeks in Turkey in 2021, I had to read more books from and about Turkey. While we were in Istanbul I read more of Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Proze laureate. Amd travelling on, I picked up a book about travelling Turkey that I knew nothing about.

Istanbul: Memories and the City – Orhan Pamuk

  • category: autobiographical memoir
  • year: 2003/2006
  • publisher: Vintage (English 2006 edition)
  • 400 pages

More painting and photogaprhoc impressoons than book this is recommended reading. Weaving childhood stories with characteristic scenes of old Istanbul, Pamuk creates a kind of melancholy that draws you in. Slowly this immense city and the way it has changed during the 20th century sinks in while reading. This is why I like to read about a place while I am visiting.

Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints

  • category: duo-memoir, travelogue
  • year: 2012
  • publisher: Wild River
  • 264 pages

Easy reading, though at times leaning towards too much light reading, this book by a duo of women travellers brings a fresh and positive look on Turkey. After so many male authors a different viewpoint is definitely refreshing. During the first part I wasn’t drawn in so much, but when I kept on reading I was happy to find a lovely book with a real traveller’s gaze to it.

So that was my 2021 reading list! Thanks for browsing all the way down. What are you reading this year? What books inspire your travels? Let us know in the comments!


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