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An incomplete record of the books I have read, looked at, discussed or even just thought about a lot on route. This bibliography is ordered by geographical location and with reference to the people with who I discussed the book:


  • South of the Limpopo – Devla Murphy
Devla Murphy’s account of travelling in South Africa by bike during the fall of the apartheid regime and the lead-up to the post-apartheid elections. I hadn’t read any Devla Murphy and I thought I should. This was the only thing available by her at Barnes & Noble in Anchorage.

Recommended by Angela:

  • Wheels on Ice: Bicycling in Alaska 1898 – 1908 – edited by Terrence Cole
First-hand narratives of travelling by bicycle over mountain passes in winter during the Alaskan gold rush at the turn of 19th century. Fascinating and funny.
  • Beneath the Crust of Culture: Psychoanalytic Anthropology and the Cultural Unconscious in American Life – Howard F. Stein
Essays on the cultural meaning of violence in contemporary American life. Dry, and somewhat depressing, but thought-provoking.


Recommended by Danusia:

  • Lullabies for Little Criminals – Heather  O’Neill
Novel about a young girl growing up rough in Montreal. Beautiful and sad.


In Penny and Ian’s book collection:

  • The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World – Hugh Brody
A discussion of hunter gatherer culture in the high Arctic. I only flicked through it but would like to get back to it.


Recommended by Sheila:

  • A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic – E.C. Pielou
I wish I had had this book with me when I was on the Arctic tundra.
  • Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
A novel about a First Nation girl growing up in a coastal community in British Columbia. Dark and disturbing.
  • Between Pacific Tides – Edward Ricketts
A classic of marine biology. Sheila read aloud to me from this book after I went digging for clams and oysters. Fantastic. I want a copy.
  • Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
A novel by Steinbeck, set in Monterey, in which the main character is based on Edward Ricketts, the author of Between Pacific Tides. A classic novel that is worth reading and as a bonus it’s a small book very suitable for carrying about on a bicycle.


Recommended by Jane:

  • I, Rigoerta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala – edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray
I haven’t read this yet but thought that maybe I should before I get to Guatemala.


Recommended by Dave:

  • All That the Rain Promises and More: a Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms – David Arora
Handy bike pannier sized mushroom guide to west coast mushrooms. Pretty amusing, too.


  • Catfish and Mandala: A Two Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam – Andrew X. Pham

An account of a bike tour of Vietnam by a Vietnamese American, returning to Vietnam to make sense of his past and, therefore, his present. This book was recommended by Tom, in Seattle, and so when I came across it in a second-hand bookshop I snapped it up.

Catfish and Mandala is an honest and brave book that examines what people do to survive and the price they pay for it. It is a book that wrestles with unanswerable questions about cultural and personal identity, and unflinchingly recounts the failures of love within a family.

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
A book for anyone over the age of twelve which describes the travails of a young Native American boy trying to navigate his way through various cultural mine-fields. This author was recommended by Babs and Dennis and having read this book I’m keen to read more of him.


  • Cadillac Desert: The American West and It’s Disappearing Water – Marc Reisner
A discussion of water policy and development in the US south-west. The Mono Basin and the Owens Valley are central in this story. Doris and John from June Lake talked about this book when we visited Mono Lake and Kathleen and Brian in Bishop also mentioned it.


  • Shallow Water Dictionary: A Grounding in Estuary English – John R. Stilgoe

I keep thinking about this book, which I read a long time ago. Shallow Water Dictionary is an extended essay – a leisurely reflection on the richness of vernacular language used to describe the subtle landscape of estuaries and marshlands and a lament of their passing.

I keep thinking of this book as I travel through the desert and realise that I don’t have the language to describe the infinitely varied beautiful and vulnerable landscape. As with marshland, people don’t see an immediate use value for desert and so it is often threatened by destructive development.


  • Under the Volcano – Malcom Lowry
A classic novel written in the 40s by English author, Malcom Lowry, set in an unnamed town in Mexico (that I later recognise as Cuernavaca) against the global backdrop of the Spanish civil war. The action takes place on the Day of the Dead and traces the demise of the hopelessly alcoholic protagonist. A bleak but compelling read.
  • Como Agua para Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
Mexican magic realism around the theme of food, family, love and passion. My first attempt at a novel in Spanish and I think I did pretty well. Como Agua para Chocolate is definitely an entertaining romance and if it is a little trite in places the Spanish provided me with enough challenge to keep me interested. Each chapter is based around a recipe and I’m curious to know if they actually work – the vocabulary of the food items proved the most difficult to decipher.
  • Sunstone/Piedra de Sol – Octavio Paz
A poem by Octavio Paz


  • Bandit Roads – Richard Grant
My friend David arrived in DF to visit me with a book package from my sister in Australia and this book was in it.

Richard Grant travels through the Sierra Madre looking for trouble and finds it. Bandit Roads takes a cursory look at the impact of the drug trade and endemic violence on life in the north of Mexico but the book is much more of a personal travelogue than an in depth examination of the complex issues it touches on.

I rode through the same area and many of the towns described in this book and experienced them quite differently.

  • Happy Families – Carlos Fuentes
Another present from my sister. Finding this one pretty heavy going… I’ll get back to you…


  • All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
All the Pretty Horses appeared on the JUCONI volunteer house bookshelves. It is a tale of the innocence, arrogance and ignorance of youth and all the mess they can lead to. Set in Texas and Mexico, Cormac McCarthy writes of various borders and what happens when they are crossed. The emotional lives of McCarthy’s laconic cowboys are played out through their intimate relationship with the land they inhabit and the horses that are their companions in it. Women, on the other hand, appear to be incomprehensible to them.


  • King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild
I was given a copy of this while I was staying on the marina on Isla Mujeres. An investigation of the brutal exploitation of the Congo under King Leopold of Belgium’s control. Disheartening reading. The history outlined in this book is where Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz in Heart of Darkness comes from.
  • Ahab’s Wife: or The Star Gazer –Sena Naslund
More marina reading: I came across this on the marina bookshelves which tended mostly towards mystery, romance and thrillers. Naslund develops the character of Ahab’s wife, who merits barely a paragraph in Herman Melville’s classic epic, Moby Dick, and sets her as an active agent among the complex political and social movements of the day. An interesting book that strives just a little to hard to be poetic.


  • The Labyrinth of Solitude – Octavio Paz
Octavio Paz’s meditations of Mexican life and thought. Been on the lookout for this for a while so when I came across a copy in a second-hand English language bookshop in Cancun I snapped it up. This one isn’t light reading so I think it will be with me for a while.


  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
I found this on the bookshelves of the apartment my sister was house-sitting in Chicago. It is hard to know exactly what to say about this book. It is definitely compelling reading but McCarthy is coming from a dark, dark place which doesn’t make for very comfortable reading. A post-apocalyptic vision, portrayed in all its desolation – a charred, but freezing, colourless world sinking hopelessly under a constant downpour of ash, peopled by starving bands of survivors. Notwithstanding the beauty of the language it is such a harrowing picture that it is almost unbearable to read.

Oddly enough it was the second book in a row I read that heavily featured human cannibalism. (The first being Ahab’s Wife.)

  • Lolita – Vladimir Nobokov

Another find on the Chicago household bookshelves. I love this book. I have lost count of how many times I have read Lolita. This time I was struck more by the novel’s black humour and wit than its pathos and tragedy.


  • The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
Casting around for books with a Cuban theme Hemingway’s classic fable came first to mind. I read this previously about twenty-five years ago and polished it off again on the plane trip back from the US to Mexico which leaves me, in fact, without a book for Cuba.
  • The Voyage of the Beagle – Charles Darwin
Another find in the Cancun English language bookshop. Preparatory reading for South America.


As I stayed in Morales with a fellow bibliophile, who not only reads voraciously and keeps a well stocked bookshelf, but writes – seriously – and makes handbound books, my time there was characterised by bibiolophilia. The books I consumed there are too numerous to list exhaustively but a couple of the gems are below.

(I also made myself a couple of handmade notebooks.)

  • Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
A book about inescapable loneliness.
  • Pedro Pedramo – Juan Rulfo
A Mexican classic. I’d been on the lookout for this for a while so when I came across a copy, in Spanish, at a second hand bookshop in Cuernavaca I snapped it up.
  • Memoria del Fuego – Eduardo Galeano
A three volume history of Latin America by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano in Spanish! This is going to keep me going for while. Jodie Lea was heading back to Australia and trying to offload most of her books and I couldn’t  resist snaffling this. Volume II and III are still in Mexico City, for safekeeping, since carting all three volumes around is a grim prospect.


Another bibliophilic experience, in a house filled with books and literary magazines. Additionally, while in an English speaking country, I took the opportunity to stock up on a couple of staples and make the most of prolific secondhand books.

  • The Birds of Mexico and Central America– Ber Van Perlo
If you are not travelling on a bike, carting everything you own with you over mountains, then there are probably far better ornithological field guides available but this book is relatively small and has definitely enriched my bird watching experience.
  • Cities of the Plain– Cormac McCarthy
From Book Mongers, my favourite secondhand bookshop in Brixton. The third of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy which relates the ill-fated fortunes of few young cowboys on the Texan US/Mexico border in the 50s. (I’m still missing the middle volume of this series.)
  • Lonesome Traveller– Jack Kerouac
Another from Book Mongers. I’ve never been a huge beat fan but it seemed appropriately themed and as a book to dip into at random it contains some beautiful writing.


  • No Country For Old Men– Cormac McCarthy
Picked this up from a slightly crazed resident expat American living in Palenque that I stayed with for a few days who had two copies. More border tales from McCarthy. No Country For Old Men is a more contemporary take on US/Mexico border trouble. The anti-heroes of this tale are drug traffickers, hired killers, a hapless county sheriff and a foolhardy opportunist. McCarthy’s vision is relentlessly bleak but oddly beautiful.


  • I, Rigoerta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala – edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray
First recommended to me by Jane in Salt Springs, I finally receive a copy of this book, in Spanish, from Reginaldo, my Spanish teacher, in San Jose where I am trying to usefully fill in my time while waiting out my series of rabies injections on the shores of Lake Peten.


  • Weaving Ourselves into the Land – by Thomas C Parkhill
  • Myths of Pre-Columbian America – by Donald A MacKenzie

A peculiar pair of books that arrive with a box of spare parts for my bicycle all the way from Australia. They were bought, by all accounts, from Gould’s Book Arcade, a chaotic dusty warehouse on King Street in Newtown, Sydney. The place is run by an unrepentant Stalinist and jam packed with out of print and remaindered volumes.

Weaving Ourselves into the Land by Parkhill is an interesting meditation on how Native mythology, as it is known and presented by academics and outsiders, says way more about them and their own sets of beliefs than about Native culture.

The Myths of Pre-Columbian America by MacKenzie is a case in point. MacKenzie’s thesis is that Pre-Columbian mythology and cosmology is, in his learned opinion, far to complex and refined to have been developed by what he considers such a primitive people. Therefore, the images and legends must of been imported somehow from the more developed European cultures at some time in history. There is not much by way of evidence to support his theories but I didn’t make it to the end of this tome.


I stayed in Quetzaltenango, otherwise referred to as Xela, for three weeks. The motive for my extended stay was provided, in part, by stumbling across an excellent second-hand bookshop. I struck up a friendship with the manager and my arrangement with him resembled more that of a lending library than a bookshop.

  • The Odyessy – Homer
A must for the long term traveller. Mind you, I was underwhelmed. Repetitive and tedious.
  • Siddharhta – Herman Hesse
Another tale of journey and quest.
  • Blue Highways – William Least Heat Moon
And yet another. This one is my pick of the bunch. A gentle tale of a meandering trip around the US in a van in the early 80s. Lovely writing.


I stayed in Bocas far longer than anyone should and it was only reading that kept me sane.

  • Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters – Annie Dillard
Dillard writes about spirit and presence in nature and I was utterly beguiled. It is a book that I would like to own because I can see myself going back to it again and again and finding something new in it each time. Her essay on witnessing a complete solar eclipse is riveting enough to have me to have me googling where all the solar eclipses in the next decade will occur.
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
Greed and hubris in the 80s. Pride – and then fall.
  • I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company – A Novel Of Lewis And Clark – Brian Hall
I have learnt all I know about history from fiction and I got a fair old dose of US history from this fictionalised account of Lewis and Clark’s epic trans-continental journey at the beginning of the 19th century.

The expedition followed the Missouri River to its source and then made its way across the Continental Divide to the Pacific coast before finally returning to St Louis almost two and half years later in 1806. The success of the expedition, it would seem, owed a great deal more to good luck than knowledge, leadership or management and Hall plays with this.

This story is told from various points of view: Meriwether Lewis, the company leader, William Clark, the second in command, a French trapper who was the official interpreter and his wife, Sacagawea, a fifteen year old Shoshone Native girl who acted as a translator and guide, all narrate their part.

  • The Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur – Carl Sarfina

A natural history following the fortunes and misfortunes of the critically endangered leatherback turtle in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Sarfina tries to understand why the Atlantic population of leatherbacks has stabilised in the last decade while the Pacific population is still in ruinous decline.

  • Beloved – Toni Morrison

Beloved is a ghost story based on the true story of an escaped African slave in the US in who murdered her own daughter rather allow her to return to captivity. In Toni Morrison’s account the mother is quite literally haunted by her action. I found the book genuinely creepy and heart-wrenching enough to weep on occasion while reading it.

  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingslover

A mother and her four young daughters are transplanted from middle America to the Congo by the authoritarian and half crazed missionary father of the family at the perilous moment of the Congo’s liberation from Belgium rule.

The story is told from the five different points of view of the women of the family. The voice I find a little unconvincing is that of Rachel, the eldest daughter, whose selfishness is so flawless as to end up as caricature. The others all undergo profound transformations as a result of their encounter with Africa.

  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

I though I’d revisit this when I came across it at the Red Frog Marina book exchange. I ended up confirmed in my opinion that Rushdie is super smart but always manages to be so self aggrandising and smug, even in a work of fiction, that it is hard to bear. His (anti) hero is insufferable and I couldn’t make it all the way to the end.


  • The Man Who Loved Children – Cristina Stead

I’ve tried to read this book several times before and never managed to get very far into it. This time I made some headway and for a while I thought I might even enjoy it. But no. None of the members of the family portrayed in The Man Who Loved Children are even slightly likeable and they spend all their time tormenting each other in beastly ways. The ending is predictably ugly and I’m not sure what the point is. I did however finish the book on this occasion.

  • The Beach – Alex Garland

Another nasty book about nasty people.

  • In The Foot Steps Of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo – Michaela Wrong

I’ve just noticed a small Congo theme running through this reading list. This book details more recent episodes in the Congo’s sad history which follows in the footsteps of a long long sad sad history. Wrong writes the Mobutu period as a tragi-farce which makes for an enjoyable read despite the depressing subject matter.

  • Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

I’ve always been slightly curious about Ayn Rand’s novels but now I know that this one, at least, is utterly insufferable. Not a single one of the characters in Atlas Shrugged is a believable human being and their lengthy monologues exist solely to promote Rand’s pernicious self-styled philosophy of Objectivism. I struggled with distaste about a quarter of the way through this lengthy tome before I started skipping vast sections and then abandoned it with a profound sense of relief.

  • The Comedians – Graham Greene

The Comedians is set in Papa Doc’s Haiti. A group of self-absorbed foreigners bumble about engaged in their own affairs against a backdrop of real and compelling horror.

Greene writes extremely elegantly about the messy intersection of idealism and human frailty. And let’s not forget to mention healthy doses of those twin evils; power and plain old stupidity.

  • We Were the Mulvaneys – Joyce Carol Oates

I had just listened to an interview with Joyce Carol Oates on Writers and Company, my favourite literary podcast, when I came across this title in the Buena Vida book exchange. As a speaker Joyce Carol Oates is dark, sardonic and extremely witty so I was excited by the find but I thought the book which tells the tale of the demise of a ‘perfect’ happy family in the wake the rape of the idolised daughter ponderous and laboured. The various family members pursue their ruin so doggedly that it is hard to sympathise with them and the redemptive triumph of familial love in the final chapter is hard to believe in.

  • The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux

I’ve been on the lookout for The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux since my trek across La Moskitia but this title, which I ‘borrowed’ from the hostel I stay on overnight supply trips to Santiago, is the closest I got, so far.

The Great Railway Bazaar is another ‘great’ travel book but I lost interest about half way through – maybe I just don’t like travel literature. Written in the 70s, Theroux documents his travels throughout Asia by train. It might have been a radical choice at the time but today it is pretty tame stuff. Theroux spend most of his time bribing his way into a private sleeper and his observations of his fellow travellers seem cutting rather than sharply observed.

(And I did dutifully return the book to the Hotel Hostal Veraguas bookshelves once I had finished it.)

  • Don’t Stop the Carnival – Herman Wouk

Written in 1965, this book is so topical in contemporary Santa Catalina that it is hard to doubt the universality of the human condition.

A successful urbane New Yorker decides, on a whim, to buy a hotel on a fictional Caribbean island. His dreams of an idyllic life in tropical paradise quickly run aground on the treacherous reefs of everyday life in a small developing country. Amazing how many laughs there are to be had when you are dealing with poor infrastructure, political corruption, unrealistic expectations and culture incomprehension. The book does end, however, in genuine tragedy and takes a serious look at alcoholism, marriage, infidelity and racism along the way.

And it all could (does) happen in Santa Catalina.

  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters

A contemporary take on Victorian Gothic in the form of a convoluted lesbian love story complete with dastardly villains and confused identities resulting in unfair incarceration in a scary lunatic asylum. A stylish and witty look at class, gender and sexuality in the Victorian era. I get the feeling that Water’s historical research is pretty good.

  • The Honoury Consel – Graham Greene

More bleakness from Greene. The wrong man gets kidnapped. The wrong man dies. Or maybe is it the right man, after all. Love. Infidelity. Alcoholism. Idealism. Friendship. Power. None of it really matters in the end.