THE EDIT • April 2020
Lose yourself in a sense of place, people and history with these seven inspiring reads. Francesca Brown, books editor of UK magazine Stylist, reveals her top picks
Recommended reading: Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai
Kenyan-born Wangari Maathai, who died in 2011, was an incredible social and environmental activist and divorced mother of three who helped shape her country’s democracy (despite resistance from Daniel arap Moi’s then-government). She also masterminded the planting of 20 million trees (which landed her the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2004). This, her inspirational autobiography, is destined to take a traveller beyond the spectacle of the safari. It’s a moving memoir and a fascinating portrait of Kenya.
Recommended reading: The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn
Set against 630 miles of England’s South West Coast Path, surrounded by vertiginous cliffs and buffeting winds, this is the uplifting true story of Raynor Winn and her terminally ill husband, Moth. Finding themselves bankrupt and homeless at the age of 50, the pair took to oft-overlooked footpaths to battle their own grief, finding hope and acceptance with every step.
Recommended reading: The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
Jansson may be more famous for her Moomin books but, once read, The Summer Book can never be forgotten. Inspired by the summer island life the writer shared with her partner, artist Tuulikki Pietilä, this conjures up the wildness and magic of Finland’s gulf coast via the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother. Irascible, loving and haunted by loss, their interaction is an ode to the complexities of Finland’s personality.
(£9.99, Sort of Books)
Recommended reading: Epic City, by Kushanava Choudhury
Brought up in New Jersey from the age of 12 and educated at Princeton, Kushanava Choudhury astounded his relatives by moving back to India’s Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), a city famous for being unadvisedly built between a swamp and an overflowing river. Finding it unchanged since his childhood, Choudhury has penned an ode to the city, celebrating its people, food, culture (especially its writers and poets) and personality. Pure joy.
Recommended reading: Mud and Stars, by Sara Wheeler
Setting off to explore modern Russia, Wheeler follows in the footsteps of its greatest writers – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev – travelling to their carefully preserved houses and the landscapes that inspired them. Deftly capturing the sardonic but generous nature of Russians, while adding in her own failures and idiosyncrasies, this is a book that’ll take you on the most enjoyable and illuminating of journeys.
Recommended reading: The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time, by Anna Sherman
Before Tokyo was so named, it was known as Edo and three public bells rang across the city telling its residents when it was time to wake, eat, work and sleep. Over the centuries, the number of bells increased, inspiring this gorgeous part-memoir, part-investigation by Sherman, which reveals the destruction and resurgence of a city founded on time, sound and the stories of the people who live there.
(£14.99, Pan Macmillan)
Recommended reading: A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
The Appalachian Trail is a walking route covering 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine and, in 1996, writer Bill Bryson and his old (slightly drug- and drink-addled) school friend Stephen Katz attempted to walk it. Filled with fascinating insights (bear attack statistics, the dark politics of the hiking trail’s inception), ruminations on consumerism and highly entertaining walk-on characters, this is a book that captures the spirit of the USA.
(£8.99, Transworld Publishers)