Read your way around the world…whenever we can’t go where we want, for whatever the reason, we’re only a book away from getting there in our minds.
If you love travel, you know the need for curiosity and the joy of discovery. You crave exploring a new destination and experiencing a different culture. Each journey adds a new layer of perspective, another lesson in humanity. We’re never the same when we return home.
The good news and the bad news
First, the bad news: We’re never going to get to all the places we want. Time and money are two reasons, but also there are always the new adventures that keep coming into our crosshairs. Now, the good news: Just because we can’t get there, others have. And they’re happy to share. We just have to sit back and let them take us along.
When you read your way around the world, you might even have an advantage. You can hop about the globe as you like. You can revisit a favorite spot with a different viewpoint, thanks to different writers. You can even time travel to experience a classic journey, this time with modern eyes.
Start with some classics, perhaps?
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. First published in 1884, “Huck” takes us straight to sights and situations that travelers still encounter in 2020. Racism and discrimination still abound. Part of the travel experience is facing uncomfortable truths. If you haven’t read this book since it was required in high school, you’ll be reminded why it’s a Great American Classic.
Travels With Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. In 1962, Steinbeck was 58 years old. He and his poodle, Charley, set out “to hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light.” He discovers racial hostility, widespread loneliness…but also kindness and giant Sequoia trees. His writing is magical; two years later he would win the Nobel Prize in literature.
Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson. “I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” wrote Stevenson. But in 1879, he needed to contemplate his future, especially the woman he would eventually marry. With a stubborn mule named Modestine, a tent, and a bottle of Beaujolais, he treks 120 miles in remote south-central France. The people he meets, the landscape, and his reflections make this worth your time.
Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Before he started to wear that famous beret and lead revolutions, Che Guevara was a 23-year-old medical student. He and his friend, Alberto Granado, took an old motorcycle, La Poderosa, on a 5,000 mile journey across the Andes, to the Atacama Desert and Amazon River. It’s during this trip that Guevara’s search for adventure turns into a discovery of the need for social reform.
On to modern travel authors…
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. It’s no secret that I think Bill Bryson writes some of the best travel literature. Here, he takes us to Australia, the country that occupies an entire continent. Although he cheerfully tells us about all the creatures that can kill us if we go there, he also manages to show us a wonderful place with friendly people, unique history, and hilarious possibilities. If we all travel with half his curiosity, our journeys will be twice as memorable.
The Salt Path: A Memoir by Raynor Winn. Imagine being middle-aged and losing everything in a fraudulent investment. And learning that your husband of 32 years has a fatal condition. What do you do? Well, with no roof over your head, you both decide to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, through Devon and Cornwall. And along the way, you discover deep truths and at least one miracle. This is my favorite new travel book. I can’t recommend it enough.
A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes. You already know her from Under the Tuscan Sun, so join her as she now journeys from Tuscany to her story of her trip to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles, Turkey and North Africa. She shares her personal anecdotes, observations on art, history, landscape, and social and culinary traditions. You’ll feel like you’re right there.
Inka-Cola: A Traveller’s Tales of Peru: Matthew Parris. Let Parris take you on a spin around South America in this funny book. Peru is the star, but you’ll learn a lot. To be honest, not everyone loves this book, often blaming it on the British author’s “Conservative MP” mindset, but they do agree it’s funny and informative. His descriptions of everyday life and his encounters with locals make it worth a shot.
Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel by Judith Fein. The author says it best: “It occurred to me that any traveler can travel like a journalist—looking for cues and clues, diving into new cultures, and coming home with great stories and new ways of responding to life.” She asks us to reach beyond our comfort zone and do more than visit attractions or eat local food. It’s about discovery, both inside and out. Don’t pass it up!
The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World by Matt Gross. If you’re wondering why his name sounds familiar, it’s because Matt Gross wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times. After that, he started the Getting Lost series, with unstructured travel and “breaking free of the constraints of modern travel and letting the place itself guide you.” This book may inspire you to plan less and wander more.
United We Read: Understanding America in 2020
In the fall of 2019, Heather John Fogarty decided to read an important book from each state, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. One book a week. She wanted to try and understand the divisiveness that now pervades the U.S. She wrote, “It occurred to me how little I knew of a person’s lived experience in Ohio or Montana, or even Arizona some 200 miles away.”
Fogarty is listing the states–alphabetically–and the books in a series for the Los Angeles Times. She prioritizes contemporary fiction and memoir, in hopes of finding common themes and shared experiences across the nation.
Part 1: Alabama to Connecticut. (Published in the LA Times on January 10, 2020) Because California is like two different states, there are two books. Here are the books from these states, with her summary and comments.
Part 2: Delaware to Maine. (Published in the LA Times on April 5, 2020) In this installment, Fogarty writes, “Never did the thought cross my mind that in a matter of months, reading might be the only way to inhabit other states and countries.” Indeed. Thankfully, she’s had a head start on us, so we can join her at our leisure. Here are the books from these states.
Future: Obviously, there are still quite a few states to go. I will update this post as the installments are published. Or you can find them on the LA Times website.
You may not be able to travel freely now, but you can still read your way around the world. I’d love to hear if you’re reading any travel-related books. Please share in the comment section, so we can all see them.
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