Introduction

I grew up in a small town in the Midlands, leaving to go to university in 1999. Apart from a couple of (brief) periods between university courses, I’ve spent most of the last 13 years living in rented accommodation, firstly in Nottingham and latterly in Oxford. Rented accommodation presents many challenges – I could write a lengthy blog post on these alone. One of the most obvious (particularly in a place like Oxford where rent is expensive and value for money is difficult to find) is space. For the first 18 years of my life I accumulated books with no concerns about storage. When I left for university, I quickly realised that I could only take a handful of these books with me. Although I had to make many difficult decisions about which books to leave behind, there was one which was guaranteed to accompany me from one rented flat to the next: the atlas which my Dad was given as a prize in 1969 whilst attending secondary school.

I have been fascinated about all things geographical from a young age, and this atlas was my window to the world, fuelling all my plans for grand journeys and expeditions. No matter (to 10 year old me) that all the statistics were out of date, and many borders no longer existed: it was what the atlas represented that was important, not the details. In the same way that the perfect composition of the English football premier league was that which was in place the first time that I became interested in football (Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday – retake your rightful places in the top division please), if I close my eyes and imagine a map of the world, I still see Yugoslavia, the USSR and several African countries with colonial names.

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Hence, from a young age, I wanted to see the world. As I grew older I read more widely, and writers such as Bill Bryson provided further inspiration. Until I reached university, my travel experiences outside of the UK were limited to a single ill-fated trip to France on a French exchange, and a couple of family holidays to the Canary Islands. When I reached my last year at university I knew this had to change. I saved as much money as possible, and in the summer of 2002 spent a life-changing 3 and a half months backpacking around Europe and North Africa with my best friend. In the summer of 2003, well and truly bitten by the traveling bug, I visited Australia.

I learnt a lot about myself on these trips. In particular I realised that, as much as I loved many of the places that I visited, I found it difficult to convey to others exactly why this was. However there are many wonderful travel writers out there who are a million times better than me at this. When I returned home I found myself devouring as many of these books as possible and then recommending them to others in the hope that they would be similarly inspired.

Fast forward to 2012. Whilst on a trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, I began to read “The Road to Oxiana” by Robert Byron. By the end of the trip I had reached the halfway point of the book, and vowed to finish this as soon as I returned to England. By Christmas 2012, I hadn’t read a single additional page. The previous Autumn had seen me get engaged and spend an intensive period of time working on my PhD as I reached the end of my first year of study. I had never gone this long without reading a non-work book before.

I decided that this had to change in the new year. To help me with this, I have started this blog. What will this blog be? I don’t want to set too many explicit aims and objectives, but I would like to achieve some (or all) of the following:

  1. I want to share my favourite travel books with the world and encourage others to read them.
  2. I want to write about my favourite past-time (namely, travelling).
  3. I want to write about something that isn’t my PhD!
  4. Last, but not least, I want to read more this coming year, and I hope that this blog will encourage me to do so.

My definition of travel writing will be intentionally broad (see the FAQ for more details). In addition, I do not intend to just talk about the book in question: the main focus for me is the place(s) described within the book. Finally, this isn’t intended to be a monologue – I would love for others to comment and exchange information about recommended books etc.

I hope it’s an interesting read.

James

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