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Armchair traveling: 10 books to take you places

In the heat of the summer, as my family and I switch gears a bit from suitcase living and transition in to a slightly more permanent dwelling, I’m transitioning a bit of my mental and work focus as well: book writing.

My next book has been percolating for a year now, and I collected stories, thoughts, and research during our year of travel. And just like most of life ebbs and flows in seasons, so, too, does my writing life.

There are times when I’m full-force here on the blog, and other times, I take a step back (normally I take a blog break for 4-6 weeks every summer, but I skipped that this year due to our trip re-entry). Another time I go easier on the blog is when I’m working on a book. That time is now fully here for me.

So, for the end of this summer and into early fall, I’ve welcomed some fantastic storytellers to temporarily join our already-full calendar of regular contributions, and you’re gonna love them (people like Emily Freeman, Sarah Bessey, Seth Haines, and Deidra Riggs, just to name a few). I’ll keep podcasting regularly, and I’m sure when writer’s block hits, you’ll still find me on Instagram or Facebook (click ‘follow’ if you’d like to keep up with my personal account there).

Speaking of Facebook, recently I asked my friends there for a bit of help as I roll up my sleeves for this next full-forced chunk of book writing. I posted this:

“I like reading books similar to the genre of the one I’m writing, so I’d love some suggestions from you while I’m working on this current book. It’s a memoir, but not heavy-handed; it’s a travel book but not how-to. (Think Bill Bryson-esque.) Tell me of some books that tell a non-fiction story in a narrative style—witty, not silly, has subtle takeaway themes but isn’t preachy or prescriptive. In other words, I want books whose primary purpose is to entertain with a good story. (Travel isn’t necessary, but I do love those.) (Oh, and I already know about Wild, Eat Pray Love, Under the Tuscan Sun, A Year in Provence, and all of Bill Bryson‘s works.)”

For this week’s post, I thought I’d share some of their answers, the ones I’m most excited about reading this fall as I work on my book. Care to join me in reading them? I’d love that.

Non-fiction narrative memoir (with a somewhat geo-centric bent)

In the comments, I’d love for you to share your book ideas that fit this narrative memoir genre. It’s one of my favorites.

glitter and glueGlitter and Glue

author: Kelly Corrigan
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“After college, armed with a backpack, her personal mission statement, and a wad of traveler’s checks, Kelly took off for Australia to see things and do things and Become Interesting. In a matter of months, her savings shot, she had a choice: get a job or go home. That’s how Kelly met John Tanner, a newly widowed father of two looking for a live-in nanny. They chatted for an hour, discussed timing and pay, and a week later, Kelly moved in. And there, in that house in a suburb north of Sydney, 10,000 miles from the house where she was raised, her mother’s voice was suddenly everywhere.”


going solo

Going Solo

author: Roald Dahl
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“This is the action-packed tale of Roald Dahl’s exploits as a World War II pilot—his encounters with the enemy, his worldwide travels, the life-threatening injuries he sustained in a plane accident, and the rest of his sometimes bizarre, often unnerving, and always colorful adventures. Going Solo brings you directly into the action and into the mind of this fascinating man.”


an american childhoodAn American Childhood

author: Annie Dillard
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“Dillard’s luminous prose painlessly captures the pain of growing up in this wonderful evocation of childhood. Her memoir is partly a hymn to Pittsburgh, where orange streetcars ran on Penn Avenue in 1953 when she was eight, and where the Pirates were always in the cellar. Dillard’s mother, an unstoppable force, had energies too vast for the bridge games and household chores that stymied her. Her father made low-budget horror movies, loved Dixieland jazz, told endless jokes and sight-gags and took lonesome river trips down to New Orleans to get away.”


laughing without an accentLaughing Without an Accent

author: Firoozeh Dumas
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“With dry wit and a bold spirit, Dumas puts her own unique mark on the themes of family, community, and tradition. She braves the uncommon palate of her French-born husband and learns the nuances of having her book translated for Persian audiences (the censors edit out all references to ham). And along the way, she reconciles her beloved Iranian customs with her Western ideals.”


paris to the moonParis to the Moon

author: Adam Gopnik
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of the City of Light. Gopnik is a longtime New Yorker writer, and the magazine has sent its writers to Paris for decades–but his was above all a personal pilgrimage to the place that had for so long been the undisputed capital of everything cultural and beautiful. It was also the opportunity to raise a child who would know what it was to romp in the Luxembourg Gardens, to enjoy a croque monsieur in a Left Bank café—a child (and perhaps a father, too) who would have a grasp of that Parisian sense of style we Americans find so elusive.”


a mountain of crumbsA Mountain of Crumbs

author: Elena Gorokhova
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena finds her passion in the complexity of the English language—but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena is controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, a mirror image of her motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. In the battle between a strong-willed daughter and her authoritarian mother, the daughter, in the end, must break free and leave in order to survive.”


river townRiver Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

author: Peter Hessler
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“In the heart of China’s Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote town of Fuling. Like many other small cities in this ever-evolving country, Fuling is heading down a new path of change and growth, which came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident.”


life from scratchLife From Scratch

author: Sasha Martin
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook—and eat—a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures.”


the telling roomThe Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese

author: Michael Paterniti
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“In the picturesque village of Guzmán, Spain, in a cave dug into a hillside on the edge of town, an ancient door leads to a cramped limestone chamber known as ‘the telling room.’ Containing nothing but a wooden table and two benches, this is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets—usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine. It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a larger-than-life Spanish cheesemaker named Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese.”


assissination vacationAssassination Vacation

author: Sarah Vowell
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

“Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. In this one, she takes us on a road trip like no other—a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.”


Our first guest writer, Ed Cyzewski, starts next Tuesday, but I’ll still be here with my podcast and occasional waving-hi sort-of posts! In the meantime—tell me your favorite wandering, narrative-style memoirs. Whatcha got for me?

10 memoirs for armchair travel: books when you feel like going somewhere without really going somewhere.

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Reading Time:

6 minutes





  1. Katy

    Great timing with the books, I have been looking for something new to me to read. Enjoy your boom writing adventure! And, thanks again for the Upstream chat in July. The discussions were helpful across the board.

  2. Ashley R

    This looks like a great list. River Town is my absolute favorite book about expat life in China, though his experiences are quickly becoming less and less normal as China develops more. Still, Hessler is a fantastic storyteller, and his book had me laughing out loud many times!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh good! I need “laughing out loud” in memoirs like these.

  3. Heidi

    I read Driving On Lemons by Terry Gilliam while I was on vacation in England 14 years ago, and it’s always stuck with me. It’s about his experience buying a home in rural Spain – not an area of the world I’m familiar with. So beautiful, and so evocative. And entertaining!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll write it down.

  4. Sarah M

    I love this genre and actually read it fairly often, but I haven’t heard of any of these!
    Sarah M

    • Tsh Oxenreider


  5. Hayley

    Great list – I look forward to checking out some of these titles 🙂

    Possibly my favourite in the category for a very long time was Donald Miller’s “Through Painted Deserts”. I read it as a college-student right around the time I set out on a road-trip in almost a reverse order to his with a couple friends from university as we literally drove a friend to her new home (we started in Canada and ended up in Phoenix, AZ – her home had previously been Houston, TX). Much of his wanderings and wonderings met me where I was at that point in my life – and perhaps that made it all the more memorable.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I remember reading that awhile back….

  6. holly fish

    Is it possible that fiction can fit that bill in a slightly more whimsical way? I’m reading Watership down right now and it is an incredible journey! Have you read it?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      One of my friends whose book recommendations I take seriously absolutely loves that book. But no, I haven’t read it. I need to!

  7. Loretta S.

    Oh my word- I want to read all of these!!

  8. Margie

    I am lucky enough to live in the Harris County (Houston, TX) library system. They put out a semi-regular newsletter called Armchair Travel. Here’s the link to the June newsletter. I have found many good options that way. I love their History and Current Events newsletter too.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Fun! I hadn’t heard of any of those. Thanks.

  9. Caroline Starr Rose

    Happy writing! I’m on deadline myself, so I’ll be thinking of you. 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Fist bump and solidarity!

  10. Heather

    Oh my word, I haven’t read any of these! Excited to check them out. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I adore this book and have read it many times.
    Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck.
    Il Bel Centro by Michelle Damiani

  11. Rebecca

    The title describes this laugh-out-loud read, A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon. I found it taking me back to my childhood (in the north) and reminding me that in a family it is the everyday happenings that make it special.

    • Rebecca

      Oops! It was written by Sophie Hudson

      • Tsh Oxenreider

        Yep, I have that one! Sweet writer.

  12. Jessica White

    My life in France by Julia child is another great book

  13. Heidi

    One of my favorite expat novels is “Scotch and Holy Water” by John Tumpane. I read it in the mid-90s when I was living in Turkey with my parents, you’ve probably read it already but it always makes me laugh!

  14. Mary Kay

    All time favorite is “Baghdad without a Map” by Tony Horwitz (husband of Geraldine Brooks.) When I lived in Tunisia, I shared this with every other American I spent time with…it’s hysterical. I also loved Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier…he weaves in humor, history, and amazing descriptions of people and place in a giant book that I was sorry to put down when I had finished. Looking forward to checking out some of the books on your list!

  15. Michele Cherie

    Who doesn’t love this genre? I gladly re-read Paris to the Moon before we left for this France trip but it’s a bit heavy on details unless you’re a committed Francophile. Anthony Doerr wrote Four Seasons in Rome as a lovey memoir about living there with his wife and infant twins for a writing fellowship. I also recommend Global Mom by Melissa Dalton Bradford. She shared her memories–both funny and tragic–of living around the world with her husband and four children. I interviewed her on my blog here: Happy armchair travels to you and blessings on your writing!

  16. Christine

    I love the book, Extra Virgin. Similar background to Under the Tuscan Sun but so much better. British woman and her sister move to a small village in Italy. It spoke to my travel bug/desire to really absorb the culture you are visiting and love the people.

  17. Naamah

    A good Aussie classic in this genre is A Fortunate Life by A B Facey. I read it as a teenager and still think about it more than 15 years later. It also made me feel like I understood where my grandmother’s life had come from as some of her experiences were similar.
    Hmmm, I think I might read it again now that I have talked about it!

  18. Lucille Zimmerman

    My husband and I listened to The Telling Room as we traveled across Colorado for his job. Weirdly, it bonded us, the way our European trips have done. That was several years ago and it’s still something we chat about.

  19. Becky

    I really enjoyed When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. It fits the writing style you are describing, but it isn’t travel related.

  20. Julie

    Thanks for this list – looks forward to getting some of these from my library. I have just finished reading
    Hot Pink Spice Saga – a travelogue and recipe book by two New Zealand chefs. Gorgeous photos, delicious recipes, witty writing – I am ready to go and explore India after reading it.

    Hope you can find it and enjoy it.

  21. Amy

    Have you ever read “Dinner with Persephone” by Patricia Storace? It’s first line has always captivated me, “I lived in Athens, at the intersection of a prostitute and a saint.” Great book!

  22. Jaclyn

    If you don’t mind something old-fashioned, try the memoir “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay”–a hilarious, true chronicle of two young women (Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough) on a tour of Europe in the 1920s.

    • Abbie

      I got this one because I LOVE “old-fashioned” books and now it is one of my all-time favorites!

  23. Carole

    Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche about a woman’s impulsive decision to sail across the Pacific Ocean with her boyfriend in a sailboat.

  24. hd

    I loved Blood, Butter and Bones: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.

  25. Alanna

    At Home in France by Ann Barry. It’s nothing life-changing, just a sweet memoir of a woman that wanted the everyday, normal life in a small town in France.

  26. Disney Art

    The Secret Garden always transports me away. I’m reading it to my daughter at bedtime! Very nice to read in winter because the story breathes spring right into your brain. Your main picture reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade bridge painting! Happy travels! Book-related or otherwise.

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