Books: a traveller’s best friend

books-a-travellers-best-friendA few weeks ago a friend of mine interviewed me about what books I take with me when I travel.

I have been thinking about this ever since and, upon further consideration, it turns out that I really do have a system.

At the moment, I am reading the Ladies’ No 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall-Smith because it is set in Botswana. Subsequently, I will be setting off for Africa with a head full of Precious Ramotswe’s voice, Botswana morality and a burning desire to cross-reference the imaginings in my head with the real thing. This is all part of my plan.

I don’t like non-fiction – never have. I would much prefer to hear about a place from a character in a book. Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things drowned my senses in the lush decay of Kerala, Robert Dessaix’s Arabesques took me from Normandy to Algiers and My Sister Sif by Ruth Park took me to a fictional island called Rongo. Because of it, I have never looked at seashells in the same way.

But what of reading on the road? Some small but important lessons I have learnt are:

1. Don’t take hard covers (they’re too heavy)

2. Don’t take anything too depressing (I read The Slap in Bali – big mistake)

3. Don’t count on finding anything worth reading when you arrive if you are travelling to a non-English speaking country (I have read The Taltos by Anne Rice because I couldn’t find anything else in English. It is quite possibly the worst book ever written in the history of mankind).

What books have you read that really capture the spirit of a country? And what books have you enjoyed all the more because you read them on the road?

2 comments on “Books: a traveller’s best friend

  1. As electronic book readers (ie Kindle) become more popular, people won’t have to make these tough decisions on what books to leave behind when travelling, as they can store 100’s if not 1000’s of books on the reader… Then again, can it really beat the reading experience of a proper printed book?

  2. When I was in Biarritz the only book I could find in English that seemed even remotely serviceable was Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. I bought it out of desperation and was surprised to find myself loving it — and it then made me go to the Paris Opera House that it was set in. Then again, I liked the biographical detail about how Leroux would fire a pistol in the air every time he finished a novel in order to celebrate. I might do that every time I finish an article and blog post …

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