Before I ever left home, I’d left home a thousands times in the pages of the books I loved. I grew up as a bookish kid, who wolfed down words faster than food. Still today, after I’ve been to more than 20 countries, books have this wonderful ability to take me to new places — even when I’m nowhere more exotic than a comfy armchair in my own home.
Here are 11 of my favorite books to kickstart your wanderlust:
‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coehlo
This tale of a Spanish shepherd’s journey across Morocco and into Europe will convince you that you need to follow your dreams, AND that you need to see the Pyramids in your lifetime. Neither thing’s bad. Read this book.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2mNL64g
‘Americanah’ by Chimanda Ngozi Adiche
My sister Christina spent several years living in Benin, just hours from Lagos, Nigeria. She never visited. “Lagos is one of the few places in the world that scares me,” she says. Despite that dire warning, this book had me dreaming of Lagos. The book deals tenderly with Nigeria and the common phenomenon of Nigerian expats who leave the country to seek their fortune in Britain and America. A loving examination of home, where Nigerians, Americans, and Brits alike will find something of value.
My review coming soon.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2neS1yO
Best American Travel Writing
I love the “Best American” series. Every year, these editors collect the best short writing in various formats — short stories, essays, sports writing, etc — and publish them in a paperback-sized volume. As a writer myself, these volumes are great for brushing up on trends and trendy places to submit. Also: the writing’s always really, really good.
The latest volume I’ve read is Best American Travel Writing 2015. (I’m usually a year or two behind, because the Boulder Bookstore sells older years for half-price and let’s be honest… travel writing’s not a tremendously current field).
I don’t drop reviews on these because honestly, what is there to say? It’s the BEST writing on a subject from a particular year. It’s all quality. Some essays will appeal to your personal taste and some won’t. That’s the value of an anthology. Take what you like, leave what you don’t.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nyrGin
‘My Name Is Red’ by Orhan Pamuk
Set in Ottoman times, this masterpiece of historical fiction will absolutely make you want to go to Turkey. It revolves around a murder mystery, but the writing, characters, and setting are all excellent. This book helped Orhan Pamuk on his way to winning a Nobel Prize in literature.
I haven’t read it in a long time, and now, thinking about it, I want to read it again.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nK2nKH
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this book in Ubud, Bali, where a full third of it is set (the “love” portion). When I met my favorite person in Bali—Yanti—she said she had moved to Bali because of the movie. “I watched Julia Roberts in ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and I said to my man: that looks like a nice place,” she said. When I met Yanti, her man was gone. But she was still there, running her little leather shop in the center of Ubud.
And I was having the same sort of magical interactions with Yanti that Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in the book. Gilbert was talking to different people than I was, and Ubud’s a very different place today than the one she wrote about in “Eat, Pray, Love,” but it’s still very much a place one can fall in love with.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2oepT0x
‘Off the Road: A Modern Day Walk Down The Pilgrim’s Route into Spain’ by Jack Hitt
My stepfather, who is an Episcopal priest, is the one who recommended this book to me. “I’d like to walk to Camino when I retire,” he said, suggesting maybe we could do it together. I’d never heard of the Camino de Santiago, Spain’s longest pilgrimage, but I do like taking long walks. This book serves as both a cultural education and a travelogue. (Any guesses why I like it? 😉 )
This book was also the inspiration for the very good movie “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen. Last I checked the movie is on Netflix.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2o8Cju4
‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner
A book on the happiest countries in the world. Although it was published in 2009 and may be somewhat outdated by this point, it’s still an interesting look into how different cultures create different sense of satisfaction.
This book is worthwhile if only for the section on Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan kingdom which measures its success in terms of Gross National Happiness, instead of Gross National Product.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2o8pqQC
‘California’ by Jennifer Denrow
Notable for being one of the first books I ever reviewed on this blog (way back before any of you were reading)! This is a book of modern poetry, which, if you know anything about modern poetry, generally means it’s weird as hell.
The book is divided into three sections: one long poem about California, a middle section of shorter, standalone poems, and a third section of weirder stuff. Check my review if you’re interested in more detail.
In general, I like this book only for the first poem, “California.” It’s a wonderful meditation on the concept of fantasy and escapism. If Denrow were younger and more millennial, I’m sure she’d be writing about #wanderlust.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nsH669
‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac
An American classic, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac is the book that came to define the Beat Generation. The Beats and the Millennials have a lot in common, in my opinion. This is a book that will make you want to hop trains, road trip across America, and generally “just go!”
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nyp4RW
‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed
A memoir of grief and a travelogue wrapped all into one, “Wild” was in vogue a few years ago. They made a movie, which I don’t think is as good as the book. It fails to capture the inner monologue which makes the book work, I think.
This memoir chronicles Cheryl Strayed’s time thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail while dealing with the death of her mother. It’s part adventure story, part family memoir, and part nature book, all wrapped into one.
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2oepwCV
‘The Lost City of Z’ by David Grann
This one I haven’t read yet, but I’ve heard awesome things.
A story about both the historical explorer Percy Fawcett and a modern quest to discover his fate, the Lost City of Z describes adventures deep in the Amazon rainforests of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. There’s a movie forthcoming, but I always like to read the book first!
It’s next on my list!
Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2o8yftv
Do you have a favorite travel book? A book that really triggers you wanderlust? I’d love to add it to my list! Please share it in the comments!
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