Fully booked

Eric Newby, former travel editor of the Observer, became hooked on travellers’ tales when he was eight. Here he recalls his favourite anecdotes and lists his top travel books

Just as top men in Levi Strauss are said to wake up in San Francisco wondering whether anyone is going to want to buy their jeans any more, so booksellers must have begun to wonder whether the apparently insatiable demand for travel books will suddenly end, never to return.

It is unlikely. Travel is one of the principal activities of the human race. If the sales of travel books falter, it will be because the sale of books generally is in decline. There are so many reasons for travelling, so much to record: commercial travellers selling arms to the Iraqis, Pepsi plants to the Chinese, Protestant Bibles to Catholics, as Borrow did in Spain, Catholic Bibles to Protestants, then wondering why they get put on the rack, or fried; commercial travellers such as I was – now known as reps – tottering up the back stairs of stores with armfuls of large-size dresses, only to find that the buyer had ‘gone to coffee’. All worth a book if the travellers know how to write.

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