Your responses – out of print travel and nature books

Dear Readers,

I hope that you are well. It is a colder day here in Winchester, with wintry showers, sleet and rain, suddenly interspersed with dazzlingly low and bright sunshine. Despite the virus, there’s a lot of activity as people in this little city prepare for Christmas. I shall be putting up the tree tomorrow.

The response to the call for your lists of out of print books produced some interesting ideas. I thought that it woul dbe useful to list all the responses. So here they are, culled from your comments appended to the post, or sent to me by email.

The sharper ones of you have already joined some dots, linking this to our friend Nick Hunt’s assignment for John Murray which may see some of these books published next year to mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death.

John Monahan

I offer “Journey to Khiva” by Philip Glazebrook and “Vanished Empire” by Stephen Brook.

Robert M Davison

Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek
Sandy Rendell’s Appointment in Crete
Mary Chubb’s City in the Sand

City in the Sand is connected because Mary was (in the 1930s) associated with the British Egyptology Society’s excavations that were led by John Pendlebury, another larger than life character in the Cretan theatre.

One more – Theodore Stephanides – Climax in Crete

Incidentally I have copies of all the books I mentioned (and many more besides) but it is sad to see them so long out of print.

Over the years, in different places, I was able to collect quite a few books related to the Cretan war – from many different perspectives. The German perspective is well (and humanely) told in von der Heyde’s Daedalus Returned.

David Sanderson

Two out of print travel books which I think Paddy in particular would approve of are Kiwi At Large and Kiwi Vagabond by E S Allison.

Errol Allison was born in NZ in 1918. He served with the 20th Battalion in Egypt, Greece, Crete and Libya. Captured in 1941 he went from prison camps in Italy to Germany. After escaping twice and being recaptured he spent weeks in a Gestapo gaol and eventually took the identity of a Belgian and met up with the Russians in action. He returned to NZ and resumed teaching.

(Taken from the dust jacket)
In 1954 he embarked on the travels described in Kiwi at Large. Leaving home with £80 he wanders 22,000 miles alone in twenty countries, to see places he had a lifelong curiosity about, and to satisfy his longing to see places where he had fought. He travels rough in seamy third class Indian trains, in crowded Arab coaches, on donkeys and on foot. His bed, sometimes under a tree or in a Persian stable, is more often in peasants’ cottages, in Greek monasteries, in Arab dives, in cheap hotels of shady character, in deserted ancient cities – though occasionally in wealthy homes.

Kiwi Vagabond is the sequel, telling of the journey from England across Europe and Asia.

I read both books some time ago and loved them. They are little known and deserve to be read by a much larger audience. I believe Errol subsequently worked at a quite high level for the Red Cross. He comes across as a marvellous individual. Highly recommended.

rlindsaybrown

Anything by John Hillaby, who I think has been rather forgotten since his death in 1996, but a big favourite travel writer of mine in my childhood and teens. Slow burn and not so showy, but a genuine love of outdoor and place comes shining through in his writing and a rare focus on the local when exotica was the thing.

Dr JP Simpson

One of the most interesting travel books I have (and it took some getting) is ‘John Blades Currey: Fifty Years in the Cape Colony’, one of 1,000 copies superbly edited by Phillida Brooke Simons and published by the Brenthurst Press, South Africa in 1986. Brasenose, Oxford-educated Currey’s account of his travels in Outeniqualand and Namaqualand and his involvement in the Eighth Frontier War cover the period 1850-56 and are immensely enhanced by his watercolour illustrations. The book is remarkable for its balance and impartiality at a time when the indigenous inhabitants, Boers and British were increasingly pitted against each other for rich farmland, gold and diamonds. The book is historical “gold dust” because Currey was private secretary to Cecil Rhodes. In the flyleaf of my copy is a handwritten copy of a letter dated March 27th (1902) from the Archbishop of Capetown to Currey that reads in part: “….So our friend is gone from us! It was like him that being owner of large mansions and estates he should die in a simple cottage. He was in death what he had been in life. Now that he is gone, I trust the rancour of his enemies will cease to pursue him. I am dreadfully grieved that I never was allowed to visit him and pray with him and that Jameson did not keep the promise he had conveyed to me through Michell.”

antoon van coillie

Black Lamb & Grey Falcon , Rebecca West : such an incredible book on the lost world of Yugoslavia just before the Second World War & any of Freya Stark’s books….

John Rigby-Jones

George Bean’s books on Turkey

Stefan

What a wonderful idea. I have spoken here before so some will know that I’m a bookseller and book collector. I’ve managed to travel fairly widely in my seventy-odd years and I’m still a bit fit. I always said you travel to faraway places only to see if it’s worthwhile going back again. There are five places on earth which I hope to see again before I die. Only one concerns us here. I lived in Crete in 1977. We rented a house in Xaniá on Psaromilingon St which cost us all of 2000 drachs a month— about thirty quid. I wonder what the rent would be now, just off the harbour. I have managed to pick up a good collection of Crete and PLF but I’ve never been able to afford a decent Pashley: Travels in Crete or Spratt’s Travels and Researches…

In my opinion the best modern writing about Crete is still Llewellyn Smith’s The Great Island. It did get a second edition and you can pick it up at a reasonable price. Do so, because you will never prise my own copy out of me. Some people read Tolkien every year. I read Crete. Another excellent work is easier to find and cheap: Gail Holst’s Road to Rembetika. I had been back to Crete (I’ve been back many times) with a party of four and we walked from Chora Sphakion to Xania via Pachnes. It was only February and what a February we picked. I have never seen such snow. The locals in Chora Sphakion said we could do it in day. But you don’t believe Cretans, do you? Four days later, we came down with broken backs and broken tents, exhausted, to a small spring in the woods below the snowline. We knew we must be getting close. We were soon in Zoúrva. My diary at the time got stolen so I cannot recall the name of the kyría who served us. She was wonderful. There were no tourists at that time of year. Three of us were vegetarians but that was no problem. We intended to continue our journey but large amounts of krasí and retsína meant we camped overnight. Later, we were back in the kafeneion. Zoúrva is still only a tiny village but that evening, with only four tourists, some old men walked in. They had the lyra and bouzouki and one was playing some kind of drum. Yes, they were playing for us but, somehow, they seemed far away and were playing themselves into some kind of mesmerism.

I am not particularly interested in the Minoan and archaeological stuff although Dilys Powell, The Villa Ariadne, is superb. The dark ages are not well covered in Cretan literature but by the time we get to the Turks and Venetians we are starting to hear Cretan voices. This was when Cretans became Crete and there are lots of titles to read.

A work of fiction, Prevelakis’s The Sun of Death, ought to be on the pantheon of world literature. It is apparently not so much fiction either.

There is a little-known work by Tasos Dourountakis: Anezina and Me: A True Cretan Story. It’s a family history of the kind all too prevalent in the English-speaking world but not often found in Crete. It would be for the better of all if Cretans, however old or young, started writing their family histories. You don’t have to write well; you just have to write. Go for it!

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
You mentioned Dilys Powell in a post. Is her ‘An Affair of the Heart’ still in print? I re-read my copy almost annually!

Stefan
In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
Yes, that’s another excellent work. It’s still available in those wretched print-on-demand things but decent first editions are still inexpensive.

Stefan

I’m back again. I shall mention another area I’ve been fortunate to spend quite some time in—Ladakh in the far north of India in the Himalaya.

Most of the old travel books can be found in the print-on-demand industry but I much prefer “real” books. Where Three Empires Meet is by E.F. Knight (not a female). It’s Victorian but is immensely readable and was very popular. It went into many editions. A first is becoming expensive but some of the later editions are reasonable. Get one with the author’s photographs.

Lieut-Colonel Torrens’ Travels in Ladâk, Tartary and Kashmir is another surprisingly readable Victorian work. If you can afford it, make an investment and buy yourself a first edition.

And the book that set it all off for me was Zanskar: the Hidden Kingdom by Michel Peissel. All his books are worth reading.

You mention nature books too, Tom. So, closer to home, I have to admit I was very late stumbling across John Wyatt’s The Shining Levels. What a superb piece of writing! All of these books and many more still continue to bring joy as you get older. I shall confine any future post to just a list of titles.

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
‘Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladakh’ by Helena Norbert-Hodge… the humanism of old ways? Would that be a fair summary?

Stefan

In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
She gave me a lift once when I was on my way to Choglamsar. I found her intellect intimidating but I would say “the humanity of old ways,” a superb expression, thank you. I think Tom, and PLF, would understand. In 1986 I had befriended a Tibetan refugee. We did some serious drinking together. In 1989 I tracked him down. He was in a broken condition with an older wife and a very young child. I got him out of the gutter and he acted as guide and interpreter for my wife and myself for a few months. In 1998 they were all doing fine and their young girl was growing to be a proud Tibetan. She spoke Ladakhi, Tibetan and English (as well as I! Albeit with a US accent).

Modern travel narratives on Ladakh tend to be the “look-at-me”, Lonely Planet stuff. Nevertheless, two works on Alchi stand out:

Alchi: Treasure of the Himalayas. Ladakh’s Buddhist Masterpiece by Peter van Ham, Amy Heller & Likir Monastery; Hirmer Verlag, Munich; 2018. This is outstanding and cheap! Publication was heavily sponsored. (Available in English language edition).

Alchi: Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek by Roger Goepper; photography by Jaroslav Poncar; Shambhala Limited Editions, Boston, 1996. 1500 copies. This will cost you a few bob more but don’t bother with the later New Delhi paperback imprint.

A slightly dry, but still fascinating work is A History of Western Tibet, A.H. Francke; Partridge, London 1907.

We ought to include also some biographies. Nicholas Shakespeare’s debunking of Chatwin. I don’t mind reading Chatwin but I am aware that some (a lot?) is fiction. Julian Evans’ biography of Norman Lewis: Semi Invisible Man: the Life of Norman Lewis is superb.

Dr. JP Simpson

Well, Stefan, your memories of Ladakh brighten a dull Irish Sunday evening! I think Helena Norbert-Hodge self-publishes now but it was her editor and friend of 30+ years ago, Tessa Strickland, who put me on to her. And, yes, Nicholas Shakespeare’s QUALITY biography of Bruce Chatwin scrubbed the scales from off my eyes but even so, I cannot ‘diss’ him, just as I cannot ‘diss’ T.E.Lawrence.

Stefan

In reply to Dr. JP Simpson.
I knew, but forgot to point out, that it’s “Norberg”.

Chatwin will be worth reading for generations to come but I fear readers will be lovers or haters. My own sister is a bookseller in the north of England. Her husband is a book tragic also. He is a PLF fan (and has a collection I envy) but my sister thinks PLF is awful. She thinks Chatwin is the bee’s knees. Her husband doesn’t and I don’t.

I read Lawrence about 45 years ago and found him hard going. I still have a copy somewhere so I shall go rummaging. He is not the flavour with bookbuyers at the moment because of his prejudices so collectors (and booksellers with nous and shelf space) should be snapping things up.

Do you know what?—I have never finished Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. I have tried and tried but it’s boring. His story is tragic, yes. In my opinion his achievement was a seemingly trivial guide he wrote in the 1930s for London Underground for London’s sightseers.

Tom has invited us to dine on on travel, environment and nature. This is probably half the British Library but I think many more of the PLF subscribers should be helping Tom out with his list here.

Stefan

8 thoughts on “Your responses – out of print travel and nature books

  1. Stefan

    Peter Matthiessen: The Snow Leopard.
    But better still is George B. Schaller’s own Stones of Silence: Journeys in the Himalaya.
    Stefan

    Reply
  2. Stefan

    I was still working on my list.
    I think Robert M Davison would be welcome round my dinner table. Fielding’s Hide and Seek is fine but surely The Stronghold is superior.
    What about Fred Burnaby A Ride to Khiva?
    I agree with Billy Apt about Lawrence but mention of Aldington brought memories. Can we include poetry as “travel literature”? I think Aldington’s A Dream in the Luxembourg is outstanding.
    There is a work which I think might genuinely be out of print: Shirley Hazzard’s Greene on Capri. You can read it in two hours. Weird but mesmerising.
    Tom’s original post included “environment” and “nature”. So we can include entire libraries here. What about travel where the authors never leave home? But they know the local wood as PLF would have known the Mani. G. B. Edwards’ The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is considered a work of fiction but we now know it isn’t.
    Can of worms, Tom.

    Stefan

    Reply
  3. Michael.

    Don’t care for Rbecca West’s snide comments about a far better travel writer, Edith Durham. who wrote wonderful books on Albania and Serbia.

    Reply
  4. Michael.

    Lt.Col. Torrens’ book on Ladakh has recently been republished. Also good on Ladakh is “An Unexplored Pass” by Captain B.K.Featherstone.

    Reply
  5. Billy Apt

    T.E. Lawrence was a deeply disturbed but remarkable man, and Seven Pillars is a magnificent book, especially as a work of travel literature, despite what Richard Aldington or any of today’s au courant anti-Orientalists have to say about it. I agree with Jeremy Wilson, who, in 1997 and 2003, republished it for first time since its original release, that the longer 1922 “Oxford” text is superior to the abridged and better known 1926 text.

    Reply
  6. farstar22

    Thank you so much for this list.  It is shocking to me that Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is out of print.  Really?  Thank goodness I have my copy!Best regardsFlorence DempseyNew YorkSent from my Galaxy Tab® A

    Reply

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