When we embarked on this nomadic life one of the goals was to read. Everything we could get our hands on.
About every country we planned to visit and live our lives. About every journey we dreamed of taking. About spots on this planet that we knew we’d likely never venture (hello, Everest), but were drawn to nonetheless.
Fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, fables, poems, histories, we have been hungry for it all. Three years into the journey, even amidst the bustle of perpetual travel, we do manage to read more than we ever dreamed.
Waiting at a bus stop, rolling through plains on a train, gliding on the sea via ferry; transportation days are great for book immersion (as are rainy days). And, then there are our “hide-in” nights. We pack so much activity into most days, that at least once a week, if not more, we lock ourselves at home – wherever that may be at the moment – make soup, salad and herbal tea, then curl up side-by-side to read for hours into the night. (These are some of my favorite nights).
Ridiculously, we are both opposed to reading e-books, since we spend so much time already tethered to electronic devices. Thus, we must “take what we can get” when it comes to English-language books in places like Croatia, Thailand, Myanmar and Morocco. This eccentricity has resulted in reading many books we might not have otherwise considered and revealed many beautiful surprises (some included in the summary below). Side note: this eccentricity has also resulted in stupidly-heavy backpacks and not-so-traveling-light at times, but…such is the journey.
Our “scarcity” of books, if you will, also means we share every title, making for a tiny book club of two, always interesting discussion and a weird little world of shared reference. From classics to not-yet-published preview books (thanks to our many friends in publishing – you are the best!), we have read (and re-read) dozens of titles in the last couple of years that have left a mark.
Here are a few of our favorites in…
Good Reads for Travel Lovers & Curiosity Seekers, Volume One.
(I capped this list at ten, but there are so many more to cover. So many, y’all!).
The Map of Lost Memories – Kim Fay
From the first chapter of Fay’s tale of a female adventurer with something to prove and much to discover, I felt immersed in her mission to uncover an ancient Khmer temple in Cambodia. There’s all the action and drama you would imagine – jungle treks, duplicitous fixers and false finds, but what makes this book stand out (other than a kickass woman in the lead, of course) is the way Fay weaves in the characters’ grappling with weighty issues surrounding colonialism, art collection and who can hold claim of the world’s treasures. This book challenged my notion of the nature of museum collections and also inspired a deep desire to slow travel through Cambodia.
Find The Map of Lost Memories on GoodReads.
The Pillars of Hercules – Paul Theroux
We are Paul Theroux fans. From the South American railway adventure Patagonia Express to the England-centric The Kingdom by the Sea, we’ve often felt the same emotions and been faced with the same cultural perplexities in these places as he describes with such joyful sarcasm.
In this book, the author travels between the pillars of Hercules, two ancient rock promontories flanking the Strait of Gibraltar, separated by just 14 kilometers across the sea, Naturally, Theroux chooses to take the long way around, spending 18-months skirting the Mediterranean by land, covering much of the same ground we have covered in the last three years. His observations about the culture and people ring true and every step of his journey inspires us to retrace his footsteps.
Find The Pillars of Hercules on GoodReads.
Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne
I can’t help but to smile every time I think about this classic (scored for a re-read in a secondhand market in Sofia, Bulgaria). The adventures of the properly hilarious Londoner Phileas Fogg and his quick-witted French valet Passepartout as they travel the globe on deadline is timeless (bad pun intended).
From steamships to railways, Bombay to San Francisco, this read makes staying in one spot for very long seem like an epic waste of time and resources. If Fogg can make it around the world, so can I – though, hopefully minus police chases, elephant rides, and passing out in an opium den.
I love this read, every time.
Find Around the World in 80 Days on GoodReads.
Cafe Europa: Life After Communism – Slavenka Drakulic
During our first trip to Croatia in 2008, we realized how little we knew about the break up of Yugoslavia and how important understanding the history and context was to our engagement there. Through Drakulic’s sharp and humorous writing in this collection of essays, we gained insight into the mentality of a people living through transitions we can hardly imagination. Her stories and observations reveal a nostalgia for the way things were and fear of change mixed with fragile hopes for what lies ahead. Though the book is nearly 20 years old, so much still seems relevant and current. This is a must-read launching point for anyone traveling in Eastern Europe
Find Cafe Europa: Life After Communism on GoodReads.
The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
Though I’m not sure what it says about my mental psyche, this devastating read is one of the books that has inspired me to pursue a life of travel. From sweeping, poetic observations: “How fragile we are under the sheltering sky,” to a knack for intensely honest dialogue, Bowles paints a portrait of the smallness of humanity against the grandeur of nature. The dark alleys of Tangier, Morocco and vast sand dunes of the Sahara come to life, almost lurking just behind the book’s flawed, yet beautiful characters. This book shattered me, yet also spoke to me about the price of freedom and what we can and will endure for the feeling of liberation.
Warning: it’s not a happy read, yet somehow, it’s gorgeous and freeing.
Find The Sheltering Sky on GoodReads.
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
This little book is one that never gets old, no matter how many times we read it, cover to cover. The tale of a shepherd boy named Santiago who leaves his home in southern Spain in search of treasure and adventure echoes the feeling we each have of finding our own way in the world. The shepherd’s travels through his homeland and into unfamiliar lands and situations in northern Africa are filled with rich detail and classic Coelho philosophy and humor. It’s a study in the power of chasing dreams and being open to what lies ahead. Through this sympathetic young character’s pilgrimage, the famous Brazilian author also delivers invaluable lessons in empathy and compassion. Everyone should read this book.
Find The Alchemist on GoodReads.
Love and War in the Apennines – Eric Newby
Much of our reading in the last three years has been focused on gaining greater insight and understanding of the events and deep scars of WWII. Eric Newby’s memoir of imprisonment and escape from a POW camp in northern Italy gives readers a lesson in history and window into the life of soldiers and resistance fighters. What shines most brightly through his story is the sacrifices made by local families living in these mountains to shelter, feed and transport the soldiers even though they feared the wrath of the German army and fascist sympathizers.
We read this book while spending six weeks in the Apennine Mountains, exploring the rough terrain and dark shadows only helped to illuminate the power of this story.
Find Love and War in the Apennines on GoodReads.
The Emperor of Paris – C.S. Richardson
This sensation doesn’t happen often. When I finished the last page of this book, I immediately wanted to turn to page one and start again.
The warm glow of Parisian street lamps comes to life in this story about destiny, coincidence and all the mess in between. From a bakery in Notre-Dame where Octavio struggles to follow in his father’s footsteps to the banks of the Seine where book-loving Isabeau dreams of a different life, this tiny tale weaves the disparate threads of their lives together into one beautiful tapestry. This read made me love Paris even more and long to be there.
Find The Emperor of Paris on Good Reads.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes – Maya Angelou
In this book, number five in Angelou’s autobiographical series, the brilliant storyteller and poet reveals a highly personal struggle with the very nature of travel and that raw feeling of being an outsider. Set against the backdrop of the struggle for civil rights in America and independence in Ghana in the 1960’s, her interactions and observations of Ghanaians as well as Black Americans living in Ghana offers readers a lesson in history and humanity. She weaves a beautiful and complex portrait of a resilient land and people, yet never shrinks from showing her personal fragility. At times, I could almost imagine walking the streets by her side, she takes you to a place and time like no other writer can.
The Valley of the Assassins, and Other Persian Travels – Freya Stark
Freya Stark’s memoir, first published in 1934, was an eye-opener for me. This intrepid female explorer went into the area between Iraq and modern-day Iran with the companionship of only a single guide – sometimes by horse or mule, often by foot. Her observations, while razor-sharp are polished with humor and compassion. Brave and petty, flawed and wise, she doesn’t come across as a hero or fearless adventurer, but as a real person leading an extraordinary life.
For a taste, here’s one passage that resonates:
“Solitude, I reflected, is the one deep necessity of the human spirit to which adequate recognition is never given in our codes. It is looked upon as a discipline or a penance, but hardly ever as the indispensable, pleasant ingredient it is to ordinary life, and from this want of recognition come half our domestic problems…Modern education ignores the need for solitude: hence a decline in religion, in poetry, in all the deeper affections of the spirit: a disease to be doing something always, as if one could never sit quietly and let the puppet show unroll itself before one: an inability to lose oneself in mystery and wonder while, like a wave lifting us into new seas, the history of the world develops around us. I was thinking these thoughts when Husein, out of breath and beating the grey mare for all he was worth with the plaited rein, came up behind me, and asked how I could bear to go on alone for over an hour, with everyone anxious behind me.”
Find The Valley of the Assassins on Good Reads.
There you have it, our little puppet show and our Good Reads for Travel Lovers & Curiosity Seekers, Volume One.
We hope this inspires you to pick up a good book, whether in your favorite chair or on a train to who knows where.
More Travel-Love Book Suggestions Coming Soon!
Is there a book that has inspired you to travel? Please share in the comments!