BAND Discussion: Favorite Type of Non-Fiction

Recently, a few book bloggers have started the Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (BAND) – “Advocates for Nonfiction as a Non- Chore.” BAND members will be hosting monthly discussions related to nonfiction.

Well, I’m on board with that! Nonfiction has been a part of my regular reading diet for a while; Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm was one of the first books that demonstrated to me how engrossing nonfiction reads can be. And to echo what Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness says, nonfiction is not a monolithic category – there are so many types of nonfiction out there, and so many subjects.

The BAND discussion question for July addresses this aspect of nonfiction by asking: What is one of your favorite types of nonfiction to read? OR What is one of your favorite nonfiction topics to read about?

The answer to this question is probably not a surprise to most readers of this blog, for I have mentioned several times that I am fond of the travel writing subgenre. (Not sure what the official subgenre name is so I use travelogue / travel narrative / travel memoir interchangeably.)

But to be even more specific, my favorite travelogues seem to be those where things don’t go according to plan. I’m tempted to call this type of travelogue, the travel thriller, although sometimes the mishaps are more funny than scary.

I know that some of my best personal stories about traveling involve the unexpected, even the unwelcome, like this one time when the Glasgow hostel’s last-minute “holiday suite” accommodations turned out to be some guy’s flat.  I know that when things went wrong on my own trips to unfamiliar places, I learned so much about my own and my friends’ resourcefulness.

Most travel narratives involve the comparison of the traveler’s culture with the cultures encountered in the traveler’s journey. The misadventure travel narrative often is the result of amplified cultural differences or misunderstandings. In the scarier travelogues, the travel writer is suspected of being an enemy or threat by a specific group and treated with aggression, even hostility. The traveler gets out of his or her depth, fast.  Or the journey is in wilderness and things don’t go according to plan because nature laughs at the traveler’s plans.

Here are my three highly recommended misadventure travel narratives:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is definitely a humorous misadventure, at least as Bryson tells it. Bryson and his even more ill-prepared friend Katz take on the Appalachian trail. It’s been a few years since I read this, but I clearly remember a scene where, in Maine, Katz goes flailing off-trail down a hill toward a distantly seen lake.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman is a nailbiting account of Susie’s post-college graduation trip to China in the late 1980’s, when the country was only newly open to backpackers. Susie travels with a college friend, Claire and both become sick at different times in the trip. Even worse, Claire starts behaving strangely, leading to a nightmarish situation for both of them.

The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder is a joint account of the authors’ experiences in the Darien Gap (which is at the Colombian / Panamanian border). In 2000, the two British men decided to travel across the Darien Gap on foot despite repeated warnings about its danger. The two were kidnapped by FARC guerrillas and were held for nine months in various locations within the rainforested area.


Filed under Non-Fiction

9 responses to “BAND Discussion: Favorite Type of Non-Fiction

  1. Love the name travel thriller! Although, I tend to not like my reading experiences too scary (and my travel experiences even less so!). So, I’d probably go more on the misadventure side of things. I thought A Walk in the Woods was fun.

  2. I love the travel writing sub genre too. It is amazing to experience a new place through another writer’s eyes. As someone who hasn’t traveled much, I am deeply inspired to get out there and see the world. I have to say I love the title travel thriller and would certainly enjoy reading more of this genre. I love to see how resourceful people can be when things don’t go according to plan. Although, I’m not sure how well I would fare in such situations!

  3. I love this! It’s a category I never identified before — “travel gone wrong.”

  4. Cori

    Love this! Have you read Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner? His wedding ends up getting canceled a week before it’s supposed to happen, so he ends up taking an around-the-world trip of a lifetime, even though it’s not with the person he expected it to be with. Highly recommended in the “travel gone wrong” category. 🙂

  5. I LOVED Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. It was fabulous on an audio book. I love the description of these kinds of books as “travel thriller” as well.

  6. Jason

    I love the idea of promoting non-fiction! Since I doubled down on the Dewey decimal system last year, I discovered I really enjoy socio-economic studies. Some particularly good ones from the past couple of years include Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and “The Tipping Point”, as well as Levitt and Dubner’s “Freakonomics”. One of the best books I’ve read this year — “Nothing to Envy” — also comes from this section. But as a default setting for comfort non-fiction, I always turn to the 900’s for history and travel.

  7. Joy – If you liked A Walk in the Woods, you might also like Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo, which is a misadventure and humor type travel memoir. It’s one that I just read this year.

    Jennifer – Yeah, some situations I think I could handle, but I think I’d run away screaming at the first sign of a leech or other disgusting critter. So I’d rather read about other people dealing with leeches instead!

    Unruly Reader – When I picked up a travel book this summer at a bookstore, one of the staff had left a recommendation about how enjoyable the book was almost precisely because stuff had gone wrong. So I think that got me thinking about how I also liked travel books where plans went awry.

  8. Cori – I actually have read “Honeymoon with my Brother”. Great premise, but unfortunately the author rubbed me the wrong way somehow. I just didn’t like him.

    Kim – I once saw a guy next to me on the metro reading “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven”. I could tell by how intent he was, as he was turning the pages, that he was engrossed as I was when I had read it. I decided not to interrupt him and tell him how good it was.

    Jason – I’ve read Gladwell’s “Blink” and I read “Freakonomics” a few years back and still remember the ideas from both of them. And “Nothing to Envy” is definitely on my to-read list!

  9. Ooh, how exciting! I never really considered TRAVEL THRILLERS as a thing that exists, but now I really want to read one. Thanks for sharing!

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