“I read; I travel; I become.”
There are, perhaps, parallels to be made between books and travel. Naturally, you’re going to have a lot less walking in the former, but both mediums open up new perspectives. And in the same way that embarking a long journey will change you, you’re going to finish a good book a different person from when you started.
Whether you’re on a 12 hour red-eye flight or desk bound and working on a particularly tedious project, here’s a selection of books that will help you rekindle your love for both new ideas and unfamiliar horizons. Pick one that piques your fancy, and bring it along in your backpack for the next time you’re on unfamiliar roads.
The Dharma Bums- Jack Kerouac
“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running…”
Most of us who crave new horizons will likely have read On The Road at least once during our formative years. The seminal novel and its freewheeling style helped to define the sense of yearning and wonder that helped defined what would later be known as the Beat Generation.
The Dharma Bums is a lesser known work that documents, among other semi-transcendental ramblings, Kerouac hiking up the Matterhorn Peak in search of transcendence and reprieve from self-destruction, and his lonesome vigil atop Desolation Peak.
Death In The Afternoon – Ernest Hemingway
“For one person who likes Spain there are a dozen who prefer books on her.”
A non-fictional work by Hemingway, Death In The Afternoon brutally brings to life the controversies and intricacies of the Spanish Bullfight, but it is also a meditation on the nature of fear and courage.
The subject matter is considered barbaric by today’s standards, but the thematic concerns at the heart of this book are timeless.
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
“Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice. Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or, perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”
In the palace of Kublai Khan, a young Venetian explorer sits in a garden, regaling the aging emperor with fantastical stories of cities. Cities that have been constructed for the unborn; cities of thread; cities of signs.
Invisible Cities deal not with the realities of travel, but with the intangibles behind each journey: Yearning, homecoming and the dreams that illuminate our perceptions of reality.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
“We can’t stop here, this is bat country!”
Hunter S. Thompson’s savage, drug-laden road trip has him pursued by illusory bats, entrenched in a hotel lobby filled with bloodthirsty reptiles and getting into armed shower standoffs with his murderous Samoan attorney.
Thompson’s inimitable delivery -veering from deadpan to frenetic- only serves to amplify the humour of his drug-laced misadventures, as he tears across the landscape of an America that simultaneously once existed, and was never quite there.
The Great Railway Bazaar
“The trains in any country contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture: Thai trains have the shower jar with the glazed dragon on its side, Singhalese ones the car reserved for Buddhist monks, Indian ones a vegetarian kitchen and six classes, Iranian ones prayer mats, Malaysian ones a noodle stall, Vietnamese ones bulletproof glass on the locomotive….”
Lucid, compelling, and occasionally ill-spirited, The Great Railway Bazaar recounts Theroux’s four-month journey by train from London to Europe, crossing the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia.
Besides its vivid characterisation of the individuals that he encounters, Theroux’s travelogue is compelling because it abstains from romanticising the ardors of travel, and the cultural dislocation of being strangers in strange lands.