It has been a year of starting anew. January started in lockdown. Still, we travelled for four months in Central America and Mexico. We had a serious case of fernweh coming back to the Netherlands. Reading books always helps. Travelogues, Central America books and books from Mexico filled our book list while we were away and at home. The guilty pleasure of 2022 was endulging in a bit of nostalgic fantasy escapism when we returned home: the Harry Potter audio books, narrated by the brilliant Stephen Fry.
Twenty books in total made it to the night stand this year, plus the seven part audio book series. Read along in our book list of 2022 and let us know what is on your reading list for the coming year. Any Central America books for you?
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1. Discovering Levison Wood: Central America, Arabia and the Nile
Looking for travel books for our time in Central America, the list we found were short. One name popped up: Levison Wood. Evidently, we’d missed this television personality not having watched proper TV for a while.
While travelling we read Levison Wood’s Walking the Americas where he walks from Mexico to Colombia with his companion Alberto Caceres. It is as crazy as it sounds. The book delivers a bit of really nice, light reading. Wood’s writing really took us along on the journey. The quick pace of the book is interesting: isn’t walking rather the ultimate slow-travel mode?
After this we picked up Wood’s An Arabian Journey. Maybe a little bit less succesful as a book, but we are fascinated by the region. The book made for another entertaining read. The best book by Levison Wood that we read this year (still finishing it in 2023), however, is his book Walking the Nile.
Starting off in Rwanda and Uganda Levison Wood treks through Sudan and into Egypt. The travelling is tough, the travel companions interesting and the travel experience intense full of failures and surprising highlights. The book leans towards journalism and still remains a true travelogue. This one is the book I’d recommend everyone.
2. Non-fiction Mexico City books
One of our travel highlights this past year was visiting Mexico City. Ending our four month Central Americas trip here was one of the best travel choices we made. Hungry to understand this metropolis while we were not even plannimg to go here in 2022, I quickly adapted my book list to the destination.
Broadly recommended were David Lida’s First Stop in the New World, and Daniel Hernandez’ Down and Delirous in Mexico City. Non-fiction books, both attempt to unravel what makes this big city tick: its culture, its people, its neighbourhoods.
I am usually not a big non-fiction fan for this type of books, I did find them helpful in understanding where I was. The two books do clearly have a male perspective on the city though, which limits the view on what Mexico City truly is. In the end, both are easy reads worth the time. Hernandez, I found, was the more interesting and entertaining of the two, getting into some of the surprising countercultures and subcultures that exist in the cracks of CDMX’ streets.
3. Sandra Cisneros’ Caramelo
This epic book tells the story of a Mexican family through the eyes of a teenager unravelling her own history and that of her parents, grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces. This sprawling book is a true gem, though it may be a bit of a long read for many. Cisneros paints a vivid image of daily life and its quirks in Mexico City, Oaxaca, migrant life in the USA and holidaying in Mexico as the home country. Never nostalgic, but rich in feelings and sensory emotions this book comes recommended.
4. Bolaño’s Savage Detectives
Still, a few months after finishing this book I am wondering what to think of it. Hailed as one of the great books of Mexican literature, it is quite … literary. In the end, I did embrace the book and its flow, and it took me on a ride as I never experienced. Difficult to summarize, this story follows a group of wannabe poets, mostly through the eyes of others, that live on the edge of ‘normal’ society.
Roaming the streets of Mexico City of much of the book the protagonists live out their daily lives, talking philosophy and literature. The book centers – though it never really centers – around the search for a mysterious poet from the early twentieth century – or is this search really a flight from law enforcement? Try it. This book will be an experience. After – or better, while – reading this book you will look a the streets of Mexico City in new ways.
5. Costa Rica and its nature conservationists
A particular niche of travel books we never encountered before is one that is typical for Costa Rica. As a country that presents nature conservation as part of its national identity, it shows to be a rich source of personal stories of those involved, many of them expats form the USA.
So, suddenly we had three such books on our 2022 Central America books list. Together they make for interesting, hilarious, shocking and informative reading.
6. The travel epic on India: Shantaram
A book I started reading in 2021 and the book with which I started 2022. It deserves to be listed again for this year. 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.
Surpisingly few authors are brought forward by Central American countries and translated to English. Two Guatemalan authors did. With fascinating insights into rural mountain life and the dark side of Guatemala’s cvil war, these are the quirky book choices I’d never have read if I had not been travelling there.
8. Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest
Although I could’ve listed this one with the previous two books on Guatemala, this one deserves its own space. The book puts the spotlight on the border region between current-day Guatemala and Mexico. It tells the real story of the discovery, exploration, recovery and oreservation of ancient Maya culture and cities by the author Mary Jo McConahay, and the stories of the people she meets along the way. Definitely recommended!
9. Paul Theroux fiction: The Mosquito Coast
Although in the end we didn’t visit Honduras, it was great to re-read this book by Paul Theroux. It is not a happy story, but an apocalyptic vision of an American father that brings his family into Honduras’ jungle. He tells them the USA has been wiped out and nobody has survived. How weird is this story. In Paul Theroux’ cheery style, disaster unfolds.
10. Personal travel journals: a vagabond, a woman in the wilderness and a 1970s classic
This year, just three books with personal travelogues made it to the list. While wanting to keep on reading more of these, we focused our reading on Central America. Still, we will always love a nice personal story by travellers we can relate to.
Wild at Heart
Miriam Lancewood published her second book Wild at Heart last year, continuing on from her book Woman in Wilderness, recounting her days trekking and living in the New Zealnd mountains. In this second book, which we read in 2022, she tells about returning to Europe, finding nature on this peopled continent, and returning to Australia and New Zealand together with her life partner Peter. The book is a great reflection about nature, getting older, freedom, and the choices people make.
Go Discover – The World Might Be Different than You Think
We knew Jørn Bjørn Augestad as Vagabjorn on Instagram. His stories are always interesting, and he travels wild and off the beaten track. Collecting anecdotes from his travels he compiled Go Discover, his self-published book. Fun to read and to browse.
Jupiter’s Travels is one of the Top Tem travel books for many readers. So I got curious a out this book by Ted Simon. This travel journal from the 70s is a demonstration of the true spirut of world travel. Just read it!
11. The World in Half: a story about roots in Panama
This lovely, though slightly unsettling story tells the tale of Miraflores. Miraflores lives in the USA and has never met her father, a man from Panama. The book unfolds around her search, a search more revolvong around herself than her father. Set against the backdrop of Panama City it paints a vivid picture of this Central American metropolis. Recommended.
Our book list of 2022 so far, with so many Central America books, was mostly light reading. Later in the year, back from travelling Central America the desire for a bit more in-depth reading by literary writers arose. These three books are in a difcerent league compared to the other books on this list, including our favourite book of 2022: The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia.
Christy Lefteri has written a beautifully crafted book capturing a contemporary story from Cyprus. Real life events inspired this book about the disappearance of vulnerable domestic workers on this Medoterranean island. She weaves the perspectives together of Nisha from Sri Lanka, her family back home, poacher Yiannis, and Petra and her daughter, who employed Nisha. The book is a reconstruction by Petra of Nisha’s days before her disapperance. Petra suddenly discovers all the unseen and unacknowledged lives of Cyprus’ domestic workers. A beautiful book to read; comes with inconvenient truths.
13. The Book of Negroes
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill may be the most impressive book I read this year. Built from real life events, this novel tells the life story of Aminata Diallo, kidnapped as a young girl to be sold as a slave from Western Africa, from her own perspective. A highly intelligent woman, she finds herself in the chaotic and heart wrenching era when slavery is abolished, finding her own way. Definitely recommended reading.
14. Our favourite of 2022: The Murmur of Bees
This magical story by Sofía Segovia is set in early 20th century Northern Mexico. Disaster upon disaster engulfs the inhabitants of the rural lands. Spanish Flu, civil war and land reform make for an astonishing backdrop for a deceivingly ‘small’ story about a foundling boy that has been surrounded by bees since he was found by an affluent family. Full of magical realism, a true drama unfolds throughout the pages of this book. Highly recommended. You’ll never look at orange trees in the same way.
Audio books: the Harry Potter Series
Having seen the movies several times, I got the Harry Potter book series as audiobooks from a friend. The cool thing was that Stephen Fry was the narrator. Listening to these books when back on the commute softened the landing after having travelled for four months around Central America. Have you seen the movies or read the books?