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Most people come here for one of two things: my travel content or my awesome wit and self-deprecating sense of humour. Hehehe. Whichever of the two you’re here for, bear with me on this one alright? Because while the title of the post may not necessarily scream “PUT DOWN YOUR JAFFA CAKES AND READ ME NOW“, it may just surprise you.

When I’m not travelling, I’m reading.

Heck even when I am travelling, I’m reading. I’ve always loved books. When I was 5 I had the reading age of a 13-year old, and these days my superhero name would be The Speed Reader because I can honestly read the incoming text of the person sitting next to me faster than I can blink!

It’s actually more of a curse than a blessing. Every time I have to sign my life away for something (new job, uni, border control, whatever) and I get told to read the small print or terms and conditions, nobody ever believes I’ve read it when I say I have. Le sigh.

So anyway, a couple weeks ago quite a few delightful little books fell out of Santa’s sack and conveniently landed right underneath my Christmas tree. Even more of a convenience is that they were all addressed “To Rhiannon“. Would have been way better if it’d said “To The Speed Reader” but I guess Santa’s elves didn’t get the memo. There’s always next year...

Based on the lovely little handful of gems I received, I’ve compiled this mini-list of the ones I absolutely cannot get enough of and would recommend to Tom, Dick, Harry and all their other friends.

Don’t worry though, I’m going beyond your typical blogger suggestions of #Girlboss, The Little Book of Hygge and Year of Yes. Not that I’m knocking any of them, I’m sure they’re great, just not my cup of tea ya know?

The list is a bit varied in terms of genre: two of the four mentioned are kind of maybe loosely travel-related if you tilt your head to the side and squint, one of them definitely is and the other? Well… no. Just no. So yeah, while the title of this post is called “4 Alternative Reads for Any Travel Lover“, it should say “3 Alternative Reads & 1 Bloody Interesting Book for Any Travel Lover“.

Word of warning, you may want to grab a glass of juice, coffee, tea, and maybe a slice of toast or two for this. It’s a bit of a long one…


1 | The Murderous History of Bible Translations

by Harry Freedman

I’ll be completely honest here. The only reason I came across this book is because I was absent-mindedly googling “books about translation” with the hopes of finding something other than a dictionary that would look interesting, professional and, well, relevant on my shelf. Not that anyone who matters in a professional capacity would ever come close enough to my shelf to judge my book tastes, mind. Anyway, I came across this on one of my mega Google sprees and not only did it fit the bill nicely but also sounds like something that I’d actually want to read.

By no means am I what you’d describe as ‘conventionally religious‘. Other than Christmas, weddings, funerals and when I’m in India I’m not a regular churchgoer. I do have an ichtus tattooed on my ribcage (long story, very cute), and I do believe, but I’m also the kind of person who will one day stand in front of God and ask Him (or Her – who knows?!) for an explanation on his reasoning behind the existence of war and famine and piranhas.
Despite my somewhat lackluster efforts when it comes to reading and following the words of the actual Bible, I’ve always found myself absolutely fascinated with the whole story of its translation.

The Bible as we know it now is not the Bible as it began, nor as, for all intents and purposes, it was intended. The “original” Bible was written mostly in Biblical Hebrew, with some portions in Biblical Aramaic, and the first ever translation was made into Ancient Greek in 300BC, a move that enabled the Word of God to spread beyond the Holy Land. Over time the Bible has been translated into more and more different languages, and to this day is the most translated book in the world. The entire book has been translated into more than 500 languages, with at least one book of the Bible being translated into more than 2800 languages! For comparison, the Harry Potter series has been translated into 71 “major” languages plus some “minor” ones.

William Tyndale before being strangled and burned at the stake. Source: Wikipedia.

A lot of the time the translation of the Holy Book came at a cost to those responsible for it.

An excerpt from the book:

“In 1535, William Tyndale, the first man to produce an English version of the Bible in print, was captured and imprisoned in Belgium. A year later he was strangled and then burned at the stake.”

Sounds interesting, right?? (Side note: There’s actually a film out right now about the spread of Christianity to Japan – it’s called Silence and looks well good. If anyone’s seen it let me know if it’s worth a watch!) Although I haven’t fully read it yet I’m already hooked and would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in translation and/or the Bible in general!

If you’re interested you can buy it here for £16.59.

2| An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist

by Nick Middleton

Do you know what makes a country a country? I don’t. I still get confused about the status of Wales despite the fact that it’s my country, I was born here and have lived here almost consistently for 24 years now. According to Google it is a country, but I swear I spent at least the first fifteen years thinking it was a principality. I don’t really know what one of them is either.

It’s funny because although many, many people will happily refer to Scotland, England and Ireland as countries in their own right, Wales often gets left behind with many believing ‘it belongs to England‘. IT DOES NOT BELONG TO ENGLAND.

Even now if you google “Is Wales/Scotland/Ireland/England a country?” you’ll come up with a bunch of conflicting answers. The UK says yes. British people say yes. The Welsh Government definitely says yes. The FIFA World Cup says yes. The Olympics say no. Wikipedia kind of says no. Lots and lots of big websites say no.

Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are not independent countries but are four somewhat autonomous regions which are part of the country known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or just United Kingdom for short.

The whole point of that was to illustrate the fact that the meaning of the word ‘country’ can at times be pretty ambiguous. This book, An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist, is a compilation of fifty places that may be considered by some as a country, or may indeed have been a country at some point in history, but in actual fact these days ‘lie on the margins of legitimacy‘.

Some of the entries in the book you definitely would have heard of, examples including Taiwan, Tibet, Antarctica and, quite amusingly, the Isle of Man. Others are slightly more obscure, such as Ahwaz (an Arabic-speaking corner of Iran seeking a return to self-rule), Lubicon (indigenous community never formally ruled by Canada) and Mayotte (an island in the Indian Ocean, claimed by Comoros, that chose to forgo independence from France in 1975). My personal favourite is Forvik, also known as Forewick Holm, a Shetland island state created by an English yachtsman (population: 1).

At first glance I thought this was just a coffee table book. You know the type I mean, the ones you stick on the coffee table for visitors to flick through when you’re taking too long brewing their cuppa. But honestly, it’s so interesting that it makes for a good all-in-one go read too, or a bit here and a bit there. Definitely worth a look for any travel aficianado!

Find out more about the book here.

3 | Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos

by Shaun Attwood

Have you been to Colombia? If the answer is no why have you not been to Colombia?! Admittedly it’s got a bit of a bad rep thanks to, you know, a few tiny little things you may have heard of such as cocaine, the war on drugs and FARC, but it is honestly such a beautiful country.

When I visited the first time I was 20 years old and crossed overland from Venezuela at what is considered by many the world’s most dangerous border crossing. I have to say, other than border control confiscating my clearly labelled paracetamol whilst allowing my driver to transport a whole vat-load of suspicious powder in his trunk, and one of the other passengers getting frog-marched off to a secluded spot in the forest by a man with a pretty big gun, it didn’t seem all that bad.

Technically when I visited, the civil war which had plagued Colombia for so long and to this day is Latin America’s longest-running conflict, was still very much in play. It had died down considerably from what it once was, but it was still very much present. In fact, that same war only “officially” ended last year.

With all that being said it’s no wonder that when I first visited Colombia in 2013 it wasn’t exactly considered as a prime tourist destination for most people. However, with the ever-growing stability of the country’s political situation as well as the conflict, it was only a matter of time.

Enter Netflix and its popular series, Narcos. 

The series, focusing on the life and times of Pablo Escobar, easily the most infamous man to come out of Colombia, has well and truly opened Colombia up to the rest of the world.

If you don’t know who Pablo Escobar is and you’re not from Colombia or the US, to be honest I wouldn’t blame you. Before I visited for the first time, the name sounded familiar but I didn’t know much about who he was, or what he was responsible for.

Speaking with the friends I made in Medellín, Escobar’s sort-of home city (he was born and raised in Rionegro, which,while technically not Medellín city, is home to the airport so it counts, right?), I soon came to hear a lot about the main events in Escobar’s life, what he was and wasn’t responsible for, and the immediate impact and affect his actions had on all the people of Medellín.

One thing I didn’t get around to on my first visit to Medellín so made sure to sign up to when I went back last July, was PaisaRoad’s Pablo Escobar Tour.

While I’m sure Narcos presents a pretty good portrayal of Colombia, Escobar and everything in between, from what I’ve heard it’s not all accurate and at times presents Escobar as someone who’s beloved by all Colombians. Um, not true. So if you ever find yourself in Medellín and are keen to learn more about the history of the drug cartels, the war and Escobar, then definitely definitely definitely look into the PaisaRoad tour.

The book in question, Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos, is an attempt to peel away all the falsities and dramatisations of the Netflix series and give a true-to-life account of Escobar and all the key events surrounding him. What I’ve read of the book so far is very much in line with what I was told on the tour by the people who lived through that time in history, experienced the events first-hand and recounted facts and figures to educate and not to entertain.

If you’re interested in Escobar, are a fan of Narcos, or simply want to know more about the most destructive time in Colombian history, give it a go.

And stay tuned for a whole post on the PaisaRoad tour. It’s been under construction for about 6 months now but I’m hoping to have it ready and raring to go by February!

Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos is available for purchase on Amazon for £10.

4 | Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

by Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry

I have a fascination with serial killers.

It’s not in a creepy, worshipful kind of way. But it’s fascinating to think about how the mind works, and how some people are led to commit absolutely atrocious crimes whereas others brought up in exactly the same way go on to be some of the world’s most peaceful members of society. Mad, isn’t it?

I also think that reading a lot about serial killers will help should I ever find myself in a situation where I’m facing a serial killer. Now I’ve put that in writing it seems absolutely ridiculous, but I once read a story about this man who was in the process of getting attacked by a shark, and in what would have been his “last moments” he experienced a whole series of flashbacks, one of which was a short clip of a documentary he watched years before which detailed how to survive a shark attack.

So how do you survive a shark attack? Punch it in the gills apparently.

You see! One can never be too prepared for life’s eventualities.

Whenever I visit somewhere, if there’s any sort of torture museum or horror tour I just have to make a stop. In fact, just yesterday in Krakow I went on one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever been on full of stories of vampires and serial killers and death penalties. It was right up my street! But more on that in a post to come…

Of all the serial killers I’ve read about (and with a shelf full of books on the topic, it’s safe to say I’ve read about a lot), Charles Manson is definitely the one that invokes the most amount of intrigue. Bloody hell it’s hard to talk about serial killers without making yourself sound like one!

Charles Manson’s mugshot. Source: Nobody. It’s in the public domain.

 

He’s probably one of very few (if not the only) serial killers in history who didn’t actually kill anybody. Instead he somehow brainwashed his ‘followers’, collectively known as “The Manson Family”, to murder people for him in brutal and unthinkable ways. This man – the one who had a Nazi Swastika permanently tattooed onto the middle of his forehead – somehow managed to make his 100 or so followers “believe, without question, his claims that he was Jesus and his race war prophecies”.

The apocalyptic race war in question was referred to by him as Helter Skelter, a reference to the Beatles song of the same name.

The book is actually quite old, originally released in I think 1974, but to this day holds onto the title of “The World’s Number 1 True Crime Bestseller“. It’s a thorough and informative account of what really happened in the Manson Family Murders, going above and beyond what the media told the world as the events happened. It gives you a peek into the world of this absolutely vile man, and really makes you question what kind of power he must have possessed for so many people to worship him as they did.

If you want to know more, I highly recommend buying the book and giving it a go yourself.


Remember when I said “this list varies” and you sat there and thought to yourself “how can a list containing FOUR ITEMS vary?” Well, do you believe me now?

If any of you have read any of the above, let me know what you think! And also if you have any recommendations I’m all ears. Seriously, I’ll read anything.