20 travel memoirs to take you around the world (from the comfort of your couch)

20 travel memoirs to take you around the world (from the comfort of your couch)

I love how a good book takes me places I have never been and may never see with my own eyes—whether that place is close to home or halfway around the world.

Readers have long enjoyed vicarious travel and prepared for their trips by turning to the written word. These days I, like many readers, am especially grateful for armchair travel.

When a reader recently asked for travel memoir recommendations on on our What Should I Read Next Instagram account as a WSIRNReaderRecs request, we received piles of great book suggestions. We’ve gone through them all and curated this reader-generated book list for you. As so often happens, my TBR grew as a result.

Today I’m sharing some books I love and some I’m eager to read because of your enthusiastic recommendations. This list of 20 travel memoirs will hopefully provide some vicarious experiences while you dream about your next trip. This is by no means an exhaustive list so I’d love to hear about your favorite travel memoirs in the comments.

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20 travel memoirs to take you around the world

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Author:
Renowned travel writer Bryson takes to the Appalachian Trail in this laugh-out-loud travel memoir. After returning to America after 20 years in England, Bryson reconnects with his home country by walking 800 of the AT’s 2100 miles, many of them with his cranky companion Katz, who serves as a brilliant foil to Bryson’s scholarly wit. A superb hiking memoir that skillfully combines laugh-out-loud anecdotes with serious discussions about history, ecology, and wilderness trivia. Droll, witty, entertaining. This is one of those rare occasions where I'd recommend listening to the abridged version, because Bryson himself narrates it. More info →
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Travels with Charley in Search of America

Travels with Charley in Search of America

Author:
This 1960 chronicle is perfect for anyone who's dreamed of taking an epic road trip across America. With his French poodle Charley as companion, Steinbeck looped the country to visit forty states: from Long Island to Maine; then west all the way to Seattle; south to San Francisco and his birthplace, Salinas; then east through the Mojave to Texas, and then New Orleans, and finally north through Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to New York. WHAT A TRIP. More info →
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At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

Author:
As a homebody with a healthy dose of wanderlust, I've been fascinated by Tsh's around-the-world adventure since the moment I first heard about it. With her husband and three kids under ten, Tsh leaves the States behind to travel to China and Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, Croatia and Germany and England and everywhere in between, for nine solid months. I so enjoyed getting to tag along on her family's global adventures, which were nothing at all like I expected—both more strange and more familiar than I had imagined. More info →
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Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Author:
In desperate need of a fresh start after the death of her mother and divorce, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, even though she had little hiking experience. What follows is a journey of ups and downs, hope and despair, as she moves toward healing and making sense of her past. More info →
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Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

Author:
This is a wonderful guide for anyone contemplating solo travel. Journalist Alice Steinbach took a four-month sabbatical from work to travel to London, Oxford, Paris, and Milan when she was in her 50s. Her memoir is as much about the places she goes as it is about the people she befriends. More info →
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Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

Author:
Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam and raised in California, after his family came to the US as "boat people." After his sister died by suicide, he set off on a year-long exploration by bicycle, taking off for Mexico, Japan, and Vietnam, hoping to make sense of his cultural identity along the way. More info →
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A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller

A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller

Author:
Frances Mayes is best known for her memoirs exploring life as an expat in Tuscany but here she shares about travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles, Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa. As much as possible, she rented a house and did her best to shop and eat like a local, thinking all the while about what it would be like to call that place home. More info →
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Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

Author:
In 1963, Dervla Murphy biked her way across Europe, through Persia and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and finally India. All that on a bicycle and during a horrible winter, no less. More info →
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Hardly Working: A Travel Memoir of Sorts

Hardly Working: A Travel Memoir of Sorts

Author:
Author Zukiswa Wanner celebrated 10 years since her debut novel The Madams was published by having a reading in as many countries in Africa and Europe as possible. WIth her partner and son along for the ride, she documents their road trip with humor and passion. More info →
The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground

The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground

A lapsed Catholic, Rosemary Mahoney invites readers along as she undergoes a pilgrimage of six revered sites, including an Anglican shrine to Saint Mary in Walsingham, England, the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, and India’s holiest city Varanasi. More info →
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Around India in 80 Trains

Around India in 80 Trains

Author:
In 1991, Monisha Rejesh’s family left England for Madras but returned to England after only two years after a lackluster experience. Twenty years later, Rajesh returned, hoping to connect with her country of origin. Inspired by Jules Verne, she experienced over 40,000 km of India by 80 different trains. More info →
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A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines

If you enjoyed Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations, you’ll love following him on his quest for the culinary holy grail from California to Cambodia. No one writes about food or adventure quite like Bourdain. More info →
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How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together

How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together

Author:
The co-host of the podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Dan Kois and his wife decide to travel with their two pre-teen daughters for a year in order to reconnect and get out of the cycle of busyness and distraction. They spend four months each in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and small-town Kansas. But of course, changing locations doesn’t make all your problems disappear and Kois offers reflections about what they learned along the way. More info →
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Paddling with Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey

Paddling with Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey

Author:
For her 40th birthday, Irene Skyriver undertook a 700+ mile solo kayak trip from Alaska to her home in Washington’s San Juan Islands. She also shares stories about her Native heritage (Makkah and Tlingit), from her great-grandparents on down. More info →
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Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude

For New York Times travel writer Stephanie Rosenbloom, traveling alone helps us become more aware of the world around us. Divided into four parts and set in Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York, she highlights the benefits of alone time and the ways it can enrich our lives. More info →
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How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir

Author:
This isn't technically a travel memoir but Jones’s remarkable book about being a Black gay man from the South includes a chapter about traveling to Europe, where he befriends an old white woman and shares the unexpected ways they connect and change each other’s lives. That travel story was too good not to include here. More info →
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Rudy’s Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe

Rudy’s Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe

Author:
Relationships require adaptation and for chronic worrier Mary K. Jensen, her marriage to her spontaneous, frugal husband Rudy involved learning his rules of travel. No matter what they faced, he had a rule for it all. They might be opposites but their travels brought them together, leading to good lessons for us all. More info →
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Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail: A Story of War, Brotherhood, and the Pursuit of Truth

Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail: A Story of War, Brotherhood, and the Pursuit of Truth

Author:
After coming home from a tour in Iraq, Nate Hankes and his recent college grad brother set off to hike the entire Appalachian trail. As their journey unfolds, Nate reckons with his identity now that he’s no longer in the Army, makes sense of his military career, and figures out where life will take him next. More info →
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Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park

Author:
After weathering a broken engagement, CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Conor Knighton decided to spend the year visiting every single National Park. Read his account and then watch the On the Trail news segments that followed. More info →
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Due North

Due North

Award-winning travel writer and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström put together this collection of essays from her two decades of travel. The stories bring her photos alive in a whole new way. More info →
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What are YOUR favorite travel memoirs? Tell us all about them in comments!

P.S. 20 books to take you around the world, and 20 terrific titles from #ownvoices and #diversebooks authors.

20 travel memoirs to take you around the world (from the comfort of your couch)

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83 comments | Comment

83 comments

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  1. Adrienne says:

    ‘Wherever the River Runs’ by Kelly Minter is not really a travel memoir, but it tells of her journeys on the Amazon river to minister to the people there. It’s a wonderful book!

  2. Aimee says:

    I would suggest Notes from a Small Island over A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and my second of his travel books would be In A Sunburned Country.

    • Lisa Toner says:

      Agreed!! Anything by Bill Bryson is wonderful, but Notes From a Small Island is an absolute must-read. (Perhaps not strictly a travel memoir as he had lived there for 20-some years when he wrote it and was preparing to return to the U.S.. Let’s just call it a really LONG trip!! 😁)

  3. Katie says:

    I was supposed to travel to Poland in June with my mom and sister to visit my aunt and uncle. It was a much anticipated trip (I’ve never been) and I was planning to ask for reader recs! No WW2 😉 Alas, we will try again next year. Several of these look really interesting. Sadly my library does not have many of them, but I do have a hold on At Home in the World 🙂

  4. Leslie Anne Steiner says:

    Paris, Part Time by Lisa Baker Morgan is a memoir that takes you to Paris. Her book is the story of her journey to find the place she can call home – part time. Her book includes many of her recipes, her travels through France and her photos of her favorite city – Paris. Pick it up as it is a wonderful read.

  5. Rheanne Burkett says:

    I LOVE A Walk Across America and A Walk Across China by Peter Jenkins. Getting to know a country by getting to know its people is such a precious experience to me. I’ve never had the privilege except through those two books, but would love to do that in either country.

    • Megan Atkinson says:

      I loved Walk across America and The Walk West, also Jenkin’s book Along the Edge of America. I’ll have to try his one in China.

    • Jillian says:

      I read Four Seasons in Rome 11 years ago when I was on bed rest in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I have such fond memories of being “in” Rome when I couldn’t go anywhere but my couch. (I also read all four Twilight books in that same stretch, lest you think I was all classy travel memoirs! ha!)

  6. Lisa Toner says:

    Thanks for this!! I’ve added two more books to my ever-growing TBR list. (I will never live long enough to finish it!!)

  7. Nevin says:

    J. Maarten Troost – my favorite travel writer -is missing from this list- his books titles alone inspire interest!

  8. Paula says:

    Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch
    I read it over a rainy weekend on the couch and felt like I had actually been to England!

    • Eliana says:

      Oh yes! I love this one and, in fact, all of her books. They do make you feel as if you have been on a holiday somewhere else.

    • Joan DiMaria says:

      I had the same experience with this book. I loved it and have recommended it to several friends who felt the same. We are planning to take this same trip!

    • Vicki says:

      I love all of her books! I like her approach to her visit – visiting homes of authors, National Trust sites, walks about the countryside – I’m in!!

    • Miranda White says:

      Absolutely agree with all these comments. I read this during quarantine and it was so delightful. Also loved her book about Martha’s Vineyard (Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams)

  9. Alyssa J says:

    I loved The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. It gave words to my experiences in Denmark and taught me some new info that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I can’t say enough good things.

  10. Haley says:

    I love this list because I feel like there are so many books (almost all of them) that I haven’t heard of!! And love that there are so many backlist options I can probably find at the library 🙂

    • S says:

      Love With a Chance of Drowning was really funny and interesting- the author and her then boyfriend live on a small sailboat for a period of time.

      Really enjoyed The Salt Path about the author and her husband and their walk along a sea path after losing their home. Her husband has a chronic disease and their journey is really interesting.

  11. Chelcie Johnston says:

    Does anyone have a suggestion on a travel memoir that is based in Spain? Going there for the first time next year and would love anything that would give me some insights.

  12. A lesser known memoir that’s fabulous reading is Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage. She and her husband did a round-the-world cycling trip in the late 1970’s, and her descriptions are at times funny, at times truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, and definitely adventurous. The memoir is made even more poignant because she died not too many years later from a triathlon accident, if I remember correctly.

  13. Laura says:

    Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone by Mary Morris. She’s written several other travel memoirs, but this is my favorite of hers. She’s also a wonderful fiction writer – I would recommend her most recent work – Gateway to the Moon.

  14. Teresa says:

    Susan Allen Toth wrote a wonderful series of travel memoirs about England, beginning with “My Love Affair with England: a Traveler’s Memoir.”

  15. Angela says:

    I just loved “A Year in the World.” I’ve read several on this list and am thankful for the reminder of how much I love good travel writing. Also, may I suggest anything by Jan Morris and “Italian Days” by Barbara Grizzutti Harrison.

  16. Susan says:

    I loved “Travels with Charley” by Steinbeck!!!! I have a standard poodle so that’s one reason I loved this travel book!! And thank you for this list. Many more titles to add to my TBR list!

    • SoCalLynn says:

      Travels With Charley is one of my all time favorite books, and one I’ve read several times. I rarely do that.

  17. Sally says:

    Where do you buy the book- Hardly Working a Travel Memoir of Sorts by Zukiswa Wanner? I can’t find it anywhere.

  18. Jaimee says:

    Free Country, by George Mahood, is one of my favorites. George and his friend, Ben, have three weeks to cycle 1000 miles from the bottom of England to the top of Scotland. But they start with only their boxer shorts, and rely on the British public for everything else for their journey. It’s an amazing story about the goodness of humankind, and it’s a hilarious read about a beautiful journey.

  19. Alexis Catherwood says:

    Am noting alot of these TBR. I loved McCarthy’s Bar which I read years ago. An English comedian travels from Cork to Donegal visiting bars with him name (McCarthy)

  20. Gay B says:

    A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle made me fall head over heels in love with Provence before I had ever visited! It’s an oldie, published in 1989, but a wonderful member of his first year in this idyllic spot in Southern France.

  21. Janice Wilson says:

    What an amazing list and more in the comments!! I shall be able to travel through the eyes and experiences and words of these authors, to places I can only now dream of from the comfort (and safety) of my arm chair.
    I am reminded of Dr Seuss…..’Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’

  22. Pamela Hall says:

    Road Trip Rwanda. by Will Ferguson. He is a Canadian author, often known for his humour. He and his friend, Jean-Claude Munyezamu, who left (escaped) Rwanda just before the genocide travel to Rwanda in 20 years after. It is hopeful, often funny, beautiful book about a country that because of its horrific history, we only know the tragedy, not the beauty and vibrancy of its people and how the country has been reborn. Highly recommend.

  23. I LOVED the memoir The Traveling Feast: On the Road & At the Table with my Heroes by Rick Bass. The author travels around the world, thanking writers that have influenced him, and cooks them a meal in gratitude. (while bringing along some of his own writing students for mentoring.) Its fascinating for the travel, the food and the writing life. Also want to echo the sentiments in the comments of the BRILLIANCE of Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. It definitely is one of my favorite travel memoirs.
    A great list here, as always.

  24. Sara F. says:

    I have so many, but this year liked “ A Paris All Your Own” ( various authors with notes on their trips to Paris). Also, “We’ll Always Have Paris/ A Mother-Daughter Memoir” by Jennifer Coburn telling of trips to several countries with her daughter. Thanks for the list!

  25. Chris says:

    I loved To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Campostela by Kevin Codd. Actually made me want to do the long walk!

  26. Mary in TN says:

    Not a travel memoir but I highly recommend the audio version of A Year in Provence. It’s dlelightful — so much so that the author had to move because he did not disguise the actual area and people came from around the world to see his home

  27. Angela says:

    I love travel memoirs! Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations is my favorite book ever, not just for the travel writing but also for how she discusses the seasons of women’s lives. The sequel, Educating Alice, is also fantastic. I also really enjoyed Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love.

  28. Nikki says:

    Give Me the World by Leila Hadley. She truly had crazy adventures–with her six year old son!–and writes about them so very well.

  29. Irena McClain says:

    Anything by Paul Theroux- The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonia Express, Riding the Iron Rooster… All are lovely to read and re-read!

  30. Shelley says:

    I’m currently reading Thirst by Heather Anderson. This is another memoir about a solo hike on the PCT. I like this better than Wild because “Anish” Is an experienced hiker with the audacious goal of breaking the record for fastest time. Still all the ups, downs and triumph over adversity themes and compelling insight into how she got to this point in life.

    Footprints is also on my TBR after a friend recommended it. We plan all family vacations around visiting national parks. I’m excited to armchair travel with that one!

  31. Karen says:

    Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks and Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd are two I enjoyed. Just read Leave Only Footprints and truly enjoyed that as well.

  32. Laurie says:

    My favourite is Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift. Illustrated with beautiful watercolour sketches, this travel journal follows her journey through France as a newlywed. I love her sense of humour, travel tips and how she draws comparisons between travel and relationships.

  33. Danielle says:

    Last year I read “Dear Bob and Sue” by Matt and Karen Smith and really enjoyed it. Matt and Karen Smith, a recently empty nester couple, set a goal to visit all the National Parks in the United States. This book chronicles those trips. It’s interesting, informative and funny. I thoroughly enjoyed Matt and Karen’s personalities and the way they interacted with one another. Travel + Nature + Humor = a winner!

  34. This is a great list and I really appreciate all the comments as well! I LOVE travel books and have read many, but there are definitely a few on this list and in the comments I had never heard of! So now my TBR has grown again…thanks!

  35. Leslie says:

    I have to suggest my favorite travel book – Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman. At the age of 48, the author decides to leave her pampered life and embark on a lifetime of travel. What makes this book so special is that she isn’t content to merely be an observer, she meets the people and learns about their cultures. This book is inspirational – she is living a lifelong dream, beginning in her middle years. It caused me to lift my head, look around at my life, and make significant changes. Thanks to everyone who enlarged the original list! My TBR list has grown by leaps and bounds.

  36. Margaret says:

    I love this genre! A few I’ve enjoyed immensely:
    Dove, by Robin Lee Graham. An account of a hippie kid in the 1960s who sailed around the world alone.
    A Thousand Days in Venice, by Marlena de Blasi. Her account of falling in love with a Venetian and moving to Venice in her 50s. Sometimes her writing is a bit much, but she describes the city beautifully (and makes me want to add velvet wall hangings and crystal chandeliers to my house!)
    The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain. His super-sarcastic sense of humor is perfect in this, as he travels and complains his way around Europe in the 1800s. It was interesting to read about what international travel was like, 150 years ago, as well.
    Learning to Bow, by Bruce Feiler. A man’s adjustment as he moves to Japan as an English teacher.

  37. Cheryl Powers says:

    Absolutely loved WILD, also enjoyed A WALK IN THE PARK. Several of the others are now on my TRB list, TX!

  38. Erin says:

    My favorite is A House in the Sky – true story following Amanda Lindhout – 19 year old cocktail waitress who saves every penny to go on adventures around the world. If it sounds like a bad idea to travel the world along as a young teen, it is. She gets kidnapped in Somalia and becomes a hostage to a young militant group. It might frustrate some but I could really relate. I was hooked from the start of the book.

  39. Emma says:

    I would add:

    *anything by Michael Palin, former Python and English traveller extraordinaire
    *Guy Delisle’s graphic novels ‘Shenzhen’, ‘Burma Chronicles’ and ‘Chroniques de Jérusalem’

  40. Sarah Jackson says:

    Thanks for this great post. Like most people I love to travel, but we can’t right now due to the pandemic. This is a way to satisfy my wanderlust for the time being. I just ordered Without Reservations and At Home in the World and can’t wait for them to arrive!

  41. Kristian Olson says:

    The two that I still think about to this day are No One Goes to the Ice Alone (which is a memoir of a National Geographic author’s research trips to Antarctica to write about it for the magazine. Faaaaansinatinating look at life on the Antarctic. )

    The other is Lost on Planet China- a reporter/memoirist decides to travel along the only highway in China that goes from the coast to the Eastern border. He explores different themes and people’s everyday life along the way. It’s less about his journey and more about the people and everyday life realities of China. But still fascinating.

  42. Karen says:

    Tales of a female Nomad by Rita Gelman is another great book if you’ve ever been a guest in other cultures and miss making friends abroad during this time of lock down. Speaking of Bryson, I also laughed out loud at Bill Bryson’s Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe book. Looking forward to finding some of these mentioned, thank you!

  43. Rachel says:

    One of my first travel memoirs was “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.” This is from Amazon: In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something daring and original that did not involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat at the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People’s Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent travelers for roughly ten minutes.

    Found it fascinating!

  44. Tienne says:

    When I think of travel writing I immediately think of Paul Theroux’s many books, particularly those focusing on his travels in South Africa. His writing style always draws me in and keeps me going. I enjoyed Dark Star Safari and The Last Train to Zona Verde in particular. The Great Railway Bazaar is his best known but I haven’t read it yet.

  45. Peggy Foreman says:

    This is concerning Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.” I remember the days written about in New Orleans with the desegregation of the New Orleans’ public schools. I was young but I knew the man who walked his daughter to school every day. Fifteen years later I would meet him and 2 years later I would marry him. He died back in 2005. But those days were always fresh in his mind. He and his daughter appeared on the Oprah tv show. He talked about writing a book about those days and calling it the Longest Walk. He was a Methodist minister and his church in the French Quarter district was damaged and his young family(first wife and kids) had to be moved and protected by the FBI. It was a dangerous time for those who chose to protect kids’ rights to get an education.

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