Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

Here's a sobering thought: We've already traveled 43% of the way from Thanksgiving to Christmas (48% to Hanukkah). And as year's end approaches, the days seem short not only because dusk arrives early, but because there's just too much to wrap up, literally and figuratively.

Allow me to assist with some suggestions for the traveler on your gift list. For both armchair and professional travelers, 2019 has been particularly rich in books that inspire, inform and entertain. Here's what caught my eye:

Two writers who have contributed to Travel Weekly in the past have come out with books I can wholeheartedly recommend.

I read my first Paul Theroux travel book, "The Great Railway Bazaar" (Houghton Mifflin, 1975), as I was traversing a similar route to the one he was describing, and I have been hooked on his writing ever since. With Theroux, his interior landscape is always as important as what he's observing.

In his most recent release, "On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, $30), we find Theroux believing that he has become representative of "the old person in the United States: unregarded, shunned, snubbed, overlooked, taken for granted, belittled, mocked, faintly laughable, stereotypical, no longer interesting, parasitical, invisible to the young."

He proves otherwise in this volume. His exploration of Mexico is keenly observed, his perceptions informed by deep historical and cultural understanding. This is a mellower Theroux, less judgmental, more thoughtful. His read of a situation can still be controversial, but the only parts I found truly shocking were his occasional slips into sentimentality.

Still, every traveler who begins to feel her or his age can relate to a sentence he puts into his notebook: "I cannot explain why, on the empty miles of these roads, I feel young."

It's hard to overestimate the influence of another Travel Weekly contributor, Patricia Schulz. Her "1,000 Places to See Before You Die," first published in 2003, not only has inspired thousands of trips (and countless "1,000 X to See Before You Die" imitators) but updated versions of the book have kept it relevant.

Just in time for the holidays, the book is reborn as an oversize, beautifully designed coffee table version, illustrated with 1,000 photographs and subtitled "The World as You've Never Seen It Before" (Artisan Books, 2019, $50). This is a can't-miss gift.

My favorite new travel book of the past decade, "Atlas Obscura," could be described as the wayward child of "1,000 Places." A second edition of "Atlas Obscura" is now out (Workman Publishing, 2019, $37.50) with 97 new entries, dozens of new photos, 12 city guides and expanded content on Africa. Whereas Schultz focuses on the iconic, the news-of-the-weird approach to travel in "Obscura" uncovers "hidden wonders," such as the grave of Elmer McCurdy in Guthrie, Okla., whose tombstone notes he died Oct. 7, 1911, but was interred April 22, 1977. The fascinating story behind the gap? You'll need to buy the book to find out.

Former New York Times Paris correspondent Elaine Sciolino has come out with a second book on France in time for the holidays. Her first, "The Only Street in Paris" (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015) focused on Rue des Martyrs as a microcosm of the city. 

Her new book, "The Seine: The River that Made Paris" (W.W. Norton & Co., 2020, $26.95), is enlightening not only for detailing the ways that, without the Seine, there'd be no Paris as we know it but for its descriptions of the Seine upriver and downriver from the capital, from Burgundy to Le Havre. An afterword includes new-to-me details about the fire at Notre Dame.

For business people in and out of the travel industry, a new book about how to deal with technological disruption comes from a man whose life as a disrupter has been well-chronicled in the pages of Travel Weekly.   

Terry Jones went from travel agent to the team that created EasySabre, one of the first consumer booking tools, to become founding CEO of Travelocity, then founding chairman of Kayak, then founding chairman of the ill-fated artificial intelligence-driven Wayblazer.

In "Disruption Off" (On Inc., 2019, $15), Jones explains, in laymen's terms, the disruptive threats of new technology (AI, 5G, blockchain, robotics) and the latent potency of ones we think we know (mobile, the cloud, the internet of things, big data, drones) -- and, most importantly, how to shield your business from disruption.

Finally, a travel-related self-help book: "The Lion Tracker's Guide to Life" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, $20) by Boyd Varty, whose family owns the Londolozi Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Part child of the bush, part storyteller, part life coach, he draws analogies for navigating -- tracking -- one's life with observations about the behavior of animals in the wild. Drawing on a format akin to the "Genghis Khan Guide to Business" (Osmosis Publications, 1984) or "Be More Pirate" (2018, Penguin Random House), Varty finds life's metaphors in unexpected places.


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