Five Favorite Books is a special feature at LA Books Examiner in which our favorite authors share their five favorite books within a category. In this edition, author and editor Nicholas Litchfield divulges his five favorite books themed around humorous journeys.
Nicholas is the founding editor of the acclaimed literary magazine Lowestoft Chronicle, and edited the anthologies Intrepid Travelers, Far-flung and Foreign, and Lowestoft Chronicle 2011 Anthology. His debut novel, Swampjack Virus, a suspense thriller set in England, was published on October 21, and is available to buy from all the major online booksellers. To learn more about Nicholas and the popular literary magazine, visit lowestoftchronicle.com. Also, check out the LA Books Examiner’s review of Intrepid Travelers, published earlier this year.
Five Favorite Books Themed Around Humorous Journeys by Nicholas Litchfield
I love to travel, and I’m especially drawn to books where the central characters embark on a journey of some kind. The books I chose here as my five favorites span a number of fiction genres, from historical fiction to science fiction, and they are all voyages with a strong emphasis on humor.
1) English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (2000)
This is a gripping story about a Manx smuggling vessel chartered to set sail to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) on an expedition to find geological evidence of the Garden of Eden. Well, that is what it’s initially about, anyway. It’s also a story of war, mutiny, and shipwreck, and the colonization of Tasmania. It’s told from the point of view of more than twenty vastly different and very unique characters and, somehow, Kneale manages to weave the different storylines together and make this a truly riveting novel. Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, and Dr. Thomas Potter are the standout characters and, between them, they provide some wonderful, dark humor. When I finished this book, I immediately went back to the beginning and started rereading my favorite passages. The book is as exciting as it is comic, and the ending as fabulous as the opening chapters.
2) Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
Ever since my mother read this book to me when I was off school with a heavy cold, Jerome has been my favorite author. I’ve never laughed harder and, much like the amusing prescription the doctor gives Jerome in the first chapter of the book (one pound beefsteak, with one pint of bitter beer every six hours, one ten-mile walk every morning, in bed at 11:00 sharp every night), I would recommend Three Men in a Boat for anyone who is feeling under the weather. The book is a humorous account of George, Harris, and Jerome’s boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford, and Jerome’s comical anecdotes and observations—musings on his elderly Uncle Podger’s attempts to hang a picture on the wall, the frustrations of putting up a tent, or opening a can of pineapple without a can opener, for instance—make the book such an entertaining one. The sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, which focuses on the trio’s bicycle tour through the German Black Forest, is also extremely funny (there is another great anecdote about Uncle Podger in it, who gives advice on making lists of things to take with you on your travels.) In a later book, The Diary of a Pilgrimage, Jerome writes about another trip through Germany, this time with his friend B., to see the Oberammergau Passion Play. “I did a hundred yards this morning through the old Pantechnicon in twenty-two and a half seconds, which, for fair heel-and-toe walking, I consider very creditable,” writes Jerome, after visiting the Alte Pinakothek, an art museum in Munich. “B. took five-eighths of a second longer for the same distance; but then he dawdled to look at a Raphael.” At the beginning of The Diary of a Pilgrimage, Jerome says that one of his most cherished ambitions is to be a great traveler. These three books alone are evidence that he achieved his ambition.
3) Around the World in Eighty Martinis by Gustav Temple and Vic Darkwood (2003)
A wager sends Messrs Temple and Darkwood across the globe, attempting to cross all five continents using a different mode of transport for each leg of their journey. The third book from the geniuses behind The Chap magazine is a collection of letters, newspaper clippings, advertisements, and cocktail recipes that form a travelogue of their fantastic martini and absinthe, laudanum and opium fueled voyage. The chaps rely heavily on their resourceful Japanese manservant, Masaki, who regularly comes to their rescue. When he’s not arranging their transportation or procuring drinks for them (or saving Gustav’s pant leg with delicate needlework), he’s saving the duo from angry market-sellers in Istanbul or freeing them from complications at the border by marrying the woman they discover tied up in the trunk of a car they rent in Naples. An absurdly brilliant adventure.
4) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (1980)
Arthur Dent and his best friend, Ford Prefect (an alien and itinerant researcher who has spent the last fifteen years living on Earth), are the ultimate travelers. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they survive the destruction of Earth (which is about to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass) by hitching a ride on a Vogon constructor ship and, in this second book, which is even funnier than the first, they travel to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and witnesses the destruction of the universe over dinner before, eventually, winding up on prehistoric Earth. I love all the books in Adams’ incredibly clever and creative, witty and bizarre Hitchhiker quintet, although So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the fourth book, is perhaps the weakest one (even if, at the end of the book, it does have one of the best chapters in the series).
5) Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser (1970)
It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite among the Flashman Papers. Every one of the twelve volumes is a work of art. Royal Flash is the first one I read, when I was a teenager, and it probably made the biggest impression on me. In the book, which begins in the autumn of 1842, Harry Flashman (the bully from Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays), who is barely out of his teens, describes himself as “big, bluff, handsome Harry, beloved of London society, admired at the Horse Guards (although I was only a captain), possessed of a beautiful wife, apparently affluent, seen in the best company, gushed at by the mamas, respected by the men as the perfect beau sabreur.” He is, in fact, the greatest anti-hero in literature—a lecherous, deceitful bully and a womanizing, cowardly scoundrel, undeserving of the medals and accolades he picks up throughout his many thrilling and comic adventures. The author, George MacDonald Fraser (a historian and newspaper reporter who served with the Army in India and the Middle East), cleverly finds a way to transport Flashman from one historical battle to the next. “I get the facts, consider the course of a campaign, and try to fit Flashman into it. History itself does the work,” Fraser once wrote. In Royal Flash, Fraser recycles the plot from one of the best-selling novels from the Victorian era, The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope (a book I loved as a kid). Flashman is lured to Germany, to the fictional Duchy of Strackenz, by the scandalous adventuress Lola Montez (Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert) and into the evil clutches of the eminent statesman, Otto von Bismarck (the Iron Chancellor), who has designs to alter the course of European history by having Flashman pretend to be Prince Carl Gustaf, a fictional member of the Danish royal family. This second installment in the extremely amusing historical adventure series is, strangely, the only one of the books to have been made into a feature film. It’s about time the other books in the series got the same treatment.
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