I sometimes feel guilty about the number of books I've got piled and stacked and wedged on bookcases, tables and the floor (and more than I care to admit which are unread). But then a time will come when I get in the mood for a particular sort of book and start thinking about what I might have on my own shelves that will perfectly match my mood. The benefit of having a personal library is being able to browse whenever I like and know I probably have something to fit the bill without having to request a book from the library or go out and buy one (well, I still do those other things, too, but in a pinch I can often come up with something closer at hand).
Last week I was lamenting the fact that there were so few women travelers mentioned in A Brief History of Diaries. I received a number of excellent suggestions and then thought wait a minute, I bet I have a few examples on my own shelves. And voilà, here are just a very few that came to mind and that were handy to get to. Okay, so I am cheating a little. They aren't diaries, per se, but travel narratives and on closer scrutiny I bet there are references to diaries amongst the entries.
The book on top, Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers edited by Mary Morris is a collection of writings by intrepid women wanderers spanning some two hundred years. The earliest is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who lived between 1689-1762 went with her husband to Constantinople, Turkey when he was ambassador. And the most contemporary traveler is Leila Philip, born in 1962, who learned the potter's craft in Japan (and whose book I own by the way so can enjoy the whole experience and not just an excerpt). This is very much a survey of the genre of travel writing, but a nice chunk of the book is about Victorian travelers, so I had to mention it here.
Having experienced my own wanderlust I have a fairly large selection of travel narratives (more than two shelves-full), but there are three books which are true gems in my collection. They seem to be out of print (sadly), and I'm not entirely sure how many editions there were, but they are books I have returned to time and again as excellent resources for country information.
Have you heard of Rough Guides? They do more than travel guides, but travel is really their thing. What I like about them is they are (or were anyway) geared towards budget-minded travelers like myself. And the Women Travel series (Rough Guide Special) gives advice and shares women's travel experiences for countries all over the world and many locales off the beaten track. Each section concentrates on one country and includes, I suppose what you would consider an essay (and sometimes several), by one or more women. There is a general overview about the country by the editors as well as travel notes at the end of each section with practical information. And one of the things I like most is they give reading suggestions particular to each country. This may be nonfiction or fiction, and I can't tell you how many books I've found by studying these lists. Each book has a brief description, too.
I think I am missing at least one of the editions, though I can't quite figure out which. I own Women Travel: Adventures, Advice and Experience (A Real Guide Special) edited by Natania Jansz and Miranda Davies, published in 1990. I'm guessing this is the original guide and it is especially fascinating to read as this is just as the Wall was coming down in Eastern Europe. More Women Travel: Adventures and Advice from More than 60 Countries (A Rough Guide Special) edited by Natania Jansz and Miranda Davies came out in 1995. And Women Travel: First-Hand Accounts from More than 60 Countries (A Rough Guide Special) edited by Natania Jansz, Miranda Davies, Emma Drew and Lori McDougall came out in 1999 and is listed as the fourth edition. Since I only own three books I seem to have missed one along the way.
What brought these to mind, aside from being interested in travel diaries in general (and the one book leads to another phenomenon) was reading The Girls of Riyadh last month. Not knowing anything about Saudi Arabia, I was thinking about where I could find some good, solid information. Ah, yes, I bet I could find a travel account in one of my Women Travel books. There are sections on Saudi Arabia in only two of the books and I have so far only read the earliest one, and it was indeed enlightening.
Not to keep you on tenterhooks or anything, but check back tomorrow to read more. My post has already gotten too long, and this will give me time to read the other essay in order to compare and contrast. The books are really excellent resources even if you are only an armchair traveler like I seem to be these days.