I guess we are all trying to find ways to travel without the freedom to actually travel, whether its through film, literature or music. As Emily Dickenson said, to shut our eyes is travel. Books transport us to distant lands and cultures. They nourish our wanderlust, entertain us, inform us, and provide us with a reservoir of potential trip ideas.
Today, I thought we’d explore this idea through a few novels, mostly classics, I’ve read over the past few years, and others I can’t wait to dip into. And why not make it a reason to find some books you’ve perhaps never seen before? So without further delay, pack your bag, grab your virtual passport and let’s go!
84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
This gem has just made it to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Charing Cross Road in London is known for its cluster of unique bookshops. Today, outside number 84 is a plaque reminding us of a bookshop once at this address called Marks & Co. In 1949, the Marks & Co owner published an ad about rare books, to which Helene Hanff, a writer from New York, replied. This marked the start of a London-NYC letter exchange that lasted 20 years. The book follows the correspondence the two and how their friendship developed, though they never met.
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
American journalist Jack Walser is on a quest to discover the true identity of Sophi Fevvers, aerialiste extraordinaire, star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. Is she part swan or all fake? The journey takes him—and the reader—on an intoxicating trip through turn-of-the-century London, St. Petersburg, and Siberia.
At Bertram’s Hotel, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple takes a two-week holiday in London staying at the fictional Bertram’s Hotel, where she meets its niche clientele, takes trips around the city, witnesses the complex lives of an estranged mother and daughter and works with the police to solve crimes.
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
A 1956 novel by James Baldwin about the life of an American man living in Paris and his feelings and frustrations with his relationship with an Italian bartender named Giovanni whom he meets at a Parisian gay bar.
A Moveable Feast, Earnest Hemingway
It’s not easy for a book to make it onto my stack to read again, but this is at the top. Rich are Hemingway’s poetic memoirs of life as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920s. He recalls situations, places and conversations in such incredible detail you actually feel like it’s the present time and you’re there with him. I loved reading the references to addresses of specific locations such as bars, cafes, and hotels, many of which can still be found in Paris today, and his friends at the time, many well known F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein.
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell
Follow Orwell as he lives as one the poorest members of society, working as a penniless dishwasher in Paris, pawning clothes to buy a day’s worth of bread and wine, sleeping in bug-infested bunks, trading survival skills and cigarette butts with fellow tramps, and trudging between London’s workhouse spikes for a few hours’ sleep and tea.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
An adventure story about the personal and professional lives of two Jewish cousins, against a backdrop of post-War New York, mixing elements of mysticism, comic-book heroes, love and intrigue that ‘keeps you up til 4am with the bedside lamp on,” (The Guardian).
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Most best-selling page-turners leave me wondering why I let myself get caught along with the hype, but this one I’m so glad I picked up. It’s an extravagant adventure, full of twists and turns, a story of loss, youth – and art theft – set in New York which plays a major part in the story, too. I was gripped and read it in two days.
SAINT MAZIE, Jami Attenburgh
Worth buying for the cover alone. “Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and feisty, she runs The Venice, the famed movie theatre in the rundown Bowery district of New York City. She spends her days taking tickets, chatting with drunks and eccentrics, and chasing out the troublemakers. After closing up, the nights are her own, and she fills them with romance and booze aplenty– even during Prohibition….”
The Godfather, Mario Puzo
Another bestseller I’m glad I picked up -on the list for 67 weeks, selling more than 21 million copies worldwide. Ironically, despite its gory subject matter, Mario Puzo has the most beautiful way with words; the language is transportive and the descriptions of New York so dazzling it’s worth reading for them alone.
And, finally: BRIGHTON
TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, Graham Greene
Some books are so uplifting, they make you want to live your life better like this one, which I devoured. It’s about Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, who ditches his regular suburban life to travel around Brighton, Paris, Istanbul and Paraguay with his Aunt Augusta – “mingling with the ‘twilight society’ – hippies, war criminals, CIA men; smoking pot, breaking all the currency regulations”.
Secret Brighton: An Unusual Guide, Ellie Seymour
Oh my, how did that get there? Read more here.