The best books that capture culture through observation and humour

Who am I?

Funny stuff happens all the time in my wafty, solo-travelling life. Sometimes that funny stuff will only become apparent after the proverbial dust has settled and I’m no longer in imminent danger or at my wit’s end: the hilarity of a situation reveals itself when I’m telling the story. Travelling alone puts you in a vulnerable position of being open to ‘the moment’ far more so than when you are travelling with someone else. I get a sense of place and people and write about what happens true to my voice which is intrinsically connected to my funny bone—an intention to capture culture through accurate observation and tragi-comic humour. 


I wrote...

Welcome to the State of Kuwait

By Francesca Spencer,

Book cover of Welcome to the State of Kuwait

What is my book about?

Collected stories, anecdotes, and observations are stitched together with facts, research, and loads of laughs, charting the highs and lows of a school in the tiny Middle Eastern country, which is itself struggling with identity, history, and future prospects. Chapters, such as Sex, Violence, Rubbish, Lying and Cheating, Booze deal with aspects of life for a primary school teacher, her colleagues, and for Kuwait's other residents—subjects that explain and illustrate culture and place.

Welcome to the State of Kuwait is about resilience; trying to find sense where no sense exists; discovering fun in small things. It’s about meeting new friends, where sharing challenges strengthen camaraderie and forms a long-lasting bond; where learning to see the funny side is the saviour of mental health.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Francesca Spencer Why did I love this book?

I borrowed Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim from a friend years back, and instantly fell in love with David Sedaris. 

I could have picked any book by Mr. Sedaris - they are all brilliant and have been hugely influential in my writing journey—but I vividly remember reading the chapter "Six to Eight Black Men", which beautifully illustrates a Dutch Christmas cultural tradition and shows it up in all its whacky weirdness, solely through storytelling and observation. Alone in my bedroom, I remember having to put the book down because I was howling with laughter. 

David Sedaris is the master of pinpointing the ludicrous, seemingly without effort or trying to be funny. 

He is one of my heroes. I think I became a bit obsessed.

By David Sedaris,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Sedaris plays in the snow with his sisters. He goes on vacation with his family. He gets a job selling drinks. He attends his brother's wedding. He mops his sister's floor. He gives directions to a lost traveler. He eats a hamburger. He has his blood sugar tested. It all sounds so normal, doesn't it? In his newest collection of essays, David Sedaris lifts the corner of ordinary life, revealing the absurdity teeming below its surface. His world is alive with obscure desires and hidden motives -- a world where forgiveness is automatic and an argument can be the…


Book cover of With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant

Francesca Spencer Why did I love this book?

Apart from being a wonderfully talented actor, Richard E. Grant is a fantastic writer.

This 1996 book is a raw and honest account of his early acting career from landing his springboard role in the cult classic With Nails to working with some of the giants in Hollywood from Steve Martin and Bruce Willis to Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

Each chapter is a film role, and Grant seems to float through the various hiccoughs and hilarity with a self-effacing charm. His perspective of being the observer, seeing everything from the sidelines; of someone who perhaps shouldn’t really be there, is the essence of his writing.

Richard E. Grant captures the crazy of Hollywood film culture in the narrative and snippets of conversation, nuance of character, situation, and place.

By Richard E. Grant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked With Nails as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An exceptionally vivid and penetrating insight into Hollywood film-making ...What most of us want is gossip about stars, and this is something the book delivers in spades ...Qualifies for that exclusive niche reserved for film star memoirs that are worth much more than a casual flick on the bookshop shelf' Jonathan Coe, Observer 'It's a star-packed savagely observed delight, and as a vivid psychological insight into one actor's complete experience of a film, it really does stand alone' Empire 'In these dashing diaries of his recent years in the movies, Grant shares with candour his wonder at this aberrant universe…


Book cover of North Korea Journal

Francesca Spencer Why did I love this book?

Michael Palin is possibly the best travel writer ever and it comes down to him being a naturally funny person. He also comes across as a super nice human, someone I would love to chat with in a café or bar and share travel stories.

I could have picked any one of his books, but I have chosen the North Korea Journal because it is a country that I probably won’t ever travel to unless, of course, I land a job there!

Michael Palin approaches each event with non-judgmental openness. It would be easy to slip into ridicule, but the humour comes from personal, very British comparisons. For example, the Kim Jong Un propaganda on a train trip he likens to ‘a mixture of the Brit Awards, Last Night of the Proms and an arms sales conference.’ Brilliant writing.

By Michael Palin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked North Korea Journal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BOOK BEHIND THE HIT DOCUMENTARY

A glimpse of life inside the world's most secretive country, as told by Britain's best-loved travel writer.

In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the countryside has barely moved beyond a centuries-old peasant economy but where the cities have gleaming skyscrapers and luxurious underground train stations. His resulting documentary for Channel 5 was widely acclaimed.

Now he shares his day-by-day diary of his visit, in which he describes…


Book cover of Finding the Right Fit: Your Professional Guide for International Educator Recruiting Fairs and Amazing Stories of a Teacher Living Overseas

Francesca Spencer Why did I love this book?

Greg Lemoine and I share several parallels. We are both teachers on the international circuit, we have both completed a tour of duty in Kuwait and we both see the funny side. But what we share most is an insatiable appetite for travel and an inherent nosiness for learning about culture, discovering new places, and adventure, which sometimes finds its way onto a page.

With Finding the Right Fit you get two books in one: a guide to international teaching containing helpful tips and advice on how to land a job overseas, and a very entertaining memoir of someone who has years of experience in the field. As a solo traveller, Lemoine sees humour and comedy that come about when left to your own devices.

By Gregory Lemoine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Finding the Right Fit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In "Finding the Right Fit: Your Professional Guide for International Educator Recruiting Fairs and Amazing Stories of a Teacher Living Overseas" you will learn the ultimate step-by-step guide to succeeding at an international educator's job fair. In this guide, you will find tips to successfully prepare for interviews, how to present your most qualified self, and you will be engrossed with the narratives of many passionate educators who enjoy their work overseas. International educator recruiting fairs are unique experiences. Take this book with you and share it with other educators.


Book cover of Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far-East

Francesca Spencer Why did I love this book?

I read Video Night in Kathmandu when I was travelling in India the first time around. It was an education in East-West relations and opened my eyes to travel being a huge privilege. I also learned to arrive in a new place with, as far as possible, no expectations. Pico Iyer is incredibly insightful and draws attention to the fluidity of culture. He acknowledges his Indian roots and how your own cultural heritage can’t help but colour your experience of a place: something to be mindful of. The video mentioned in the title is Rambo, rammed full of western hegemonic ideals, which, weirdly, was a smash hit everywhere in Asia. Iyer’s observations are absolutely on point, entertaining, highlighting the bizarre which, of course, is very funny, as well as thought-provoking.

By Pico Iyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Video Night in Kathmandu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Pico Iyer began his travels, he wanted to know how Rambo conquered Asia. Why did Dire Straits blast out over Hiroshima, Bruce Springsteen over Bali and Madonna over all? If he was eager to learn where East meets West, how pop culture and imperialism penetrated through the world's most ancient civilisations, then the truths he began to uncover were more startling, more subtle, more complex than he ever anticipated. Who was hustling whom? When did this pursuit of illusions and vested interests, with it's curious mix of innocence and calculation, turn from confrontation into the mating dance? Iyer travelled…


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Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

By Jennifer Silva Redmond,

Book cover of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

Jennifer Silva Redmond Author Of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Writer of Memoir Editor of everything Sailor of Seas Daily Dog Walker Intrepid Traveler

Jennifer's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Jennifer Shea married Russel Redmond, they made a decision to spend their honeymoon at sea, sailing in Mexico. The voyage tested their new relationship, not just through rocky waters and unexpected weather, but in all the ways that living on a twenty-six-foot sailboat make one reconsider what's truly important.

In this charming, meditative memoir, the couple sails to Baja's Sea of Cortez, where they spend twelve months before sailing south and through the Panama Canal. Jennifer's unique experience on the boat weaves through time, from her bohemian 1960s childhood to being a struggling actor in New York.

Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

By Jennifer Silva Redmond,

What is this book about?

When Jennifer Shea married Russel Redmond, they made a decision to spend their honeymoon at sea, sailing in Mexico. The voyage tested their new relationship, not just through rocky waters and unexpected weather, but in all the ways that living on a twenty-six-foot sailboat make one reconsider what's truly important.

In this charming, meditative memoir, Jennifer recounts that fateful first year, moving back and forth with the currents of her life. On their voyage, the couple sailed Watchfire to Baja California's Sea of Cortez, where they spent twelve months before sailing south along Mexico and Central America and through the…


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