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Traveler’s Book List: The Top Travel Books of the Year

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This holiday season, whether you are hopping on a 747 to a far-flung destination or doing a little global surfing on the Internet, these books — travel memoirs and narratives set in other lands — can take you to places you’ve always wanted to go. Alison Singh Gee rounds up the best five reads to keep your wanderlust alive.

1) The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy

Yes, we’re talking about that Andrew McCarthy, he of the 1980’s preppy blazers and ever wide-open blue eyes. Shaking off a stint in rehab and the crash of the Brat Pack, the Weekend at Bernie’s and Pretty in Pink actor realized something vital about himself: It was only when he was traveling to the far ends of the earth, where he could feel a surround-sound aloneness and make sense of his commitment phobias, that he felt the happiest. McCarthy began chronicling his adventures — to Patagonia, the Amazon, the top of the Kilamanjaro — for National Geographic Traveler, and for The Longest Way Home he wove together his experiences, a bit of autobiography, and a lot of deep and intimate self reflection.

2) The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah

What happens with a Anglo-Afghan travel writer uproots his entire family to Casablanca and moves them into a sprawling Moroccan mansion that is infested with jinns (spirits)? This book is not a languid read about Olde Morocco — it’s hilarious, fast-paced and full of mystery. Shah is a modern-day master of story telling. As you read his books you almost imagine yourself sitting around a big fire, under a huge sky, listening to him create this magical world of spirits, spices and smoky cafes. If you want to head deeper into the dark continent, check out Shah’s vividly imagined, painstakingly crafted 2012 novel, Timbuctoo, based on a tale about a destitute American sailor and his journey to a lost African kingdom.

3)  Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild is a best-selling memoir that follows a young woman who, although shockingly ill-prepared, hits the 1500-mile long Pacific Crest Trail. Her ultimate quest: to commune with the stunning deserts and mountains the trail traverses, but also to make sense of her mother’s untimely death, and find her footing on the planet again. Strayed’s strenuous external and internal odyssey through the pines (and her fraught memories) has inspired legions of women to strap on their hiking boots and hit the PCT.

4) Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now — As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It by Craig Taylor

For those of us whose interest in the world’s most fascinating and most celebrated city was piqued by the 2012 Olympics, Londoners is an narrative portrait of the English capital. Editor and writer Taylor has pulled together an astonishing collection of personal histories of London dwellers, from such disparate interviewees as a West End rickshaw driver to a soldier at the Buckingham Palace, to a traveler who witnesses a Tube rider through herself under a train. Captivating, dazzling and unforgettable.

5) Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier

Humorist and New Yorker writer Ian Frazier has taken a generation of readers to experiences that few of can access in an intimate way  — life on a Great Plains Indian reservation, angling for trout in the Rocky Mountains. And now he leads us on one of the wildest journeys of all — traveling through Siberia, which he calls “the greatest horrible country in the world.” With Frazier at the helm, Travels in Siberia is at turns fascinating, funny and very human.

By Alison Singh Gee for Gee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the author of the upcoming Hong Kong-India memoir Where the Peacocks Sing: A Prince, a Palace and the Search for Home, a comic chronicle of her relationship with her husband’s 100-room manor and his idiosyncratic landed gentry family.