Great Books for Travelers

“I cannot live without books,” said Thomas Jefferson and I share his belief. Actually I agree with every quote praising books, because since discovering them I have never been the same. I have already lived a thousand lives; I was a troubled teen in New York City, a geisha in Japan and spanked in Seattle, and so much in between. The magic with these stories is there is something there for everyone, for every occasion and any place.

Since having two kids I don’t have that much time to read anymore, but I make every second count. I read on the bus, while walking to work and until my eyes can’t see straight any more. So, I can be transformed from a gloomy reality of rain and cold to the beaches of Thailand in a matter of seconds. And reading about places both near and far makes me experience them better than any guidebook with all its tips on accommodation, food and activities. I have discovered that reading books set in the country or city I am visiting adds that little something extra to every trip. Even though I know it’s fiction and there was no Robert Langdon uncovering clues in Vatican or Comissario Brunetti solving crimes in Venice, it still made both places more personal, surprisingly more real and meaningful.

IMGP0174Perhaps it’s just me, but ever since reading The Sound of Music on my trip to Salzburg and imagining the Von Trapp family on every street, I was hooked on finding stories that would make me see more than just the tourist sights. I wanted to feel like talking to a local who’d let me in on a long kept secret. Here are some books that have made my trips better.

New York City – The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger. First I’ve read this book for school and loved it as any teenager would. Then I took it with me when I went to visit one of my favorite cities, The Big Apple. Catching up with Holden Caulfield while sitting on a bench in The Central Park made me almost a part of the story and I saw NYC in a whole new light. Not through rose glasses from all the Hollywood romantic movies.

Barcelona- Cathedral of the Sea,  Ildefonso Falcones. I had trouble reading this book the first time I gave it a try. It was so cruel in the beginning, I had put it off and only gave it another chance because my friend had translated it. And after the first chapter, with every new page I loved it more. I am a sucker for historical family fiction, so I loved following a boy Arnau becoming a man in 14th century Barcelona, while in the backdrop there is the inquisition and the construction of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar. When I sat in that cathedral I felt as if the story made me appreciate it more, it stood out from all the magnificent buildings, because I felt the connection, as if my own ancestor was the one helping to build it.

Sweden – The Depths, Henning Mankell. Now, a lot could be said about one of my all time favorite authors who made me fall in love with the Scandinavian thrillers and the love is only getting stronger as I discover other writers. His Walander series are just amazing; the way he manages to describe the melancholy of the setting, gruesome murders and the cynical detective, is beautiful. The minute we started planning the trip to Sweden, Ystad and Malmo were the places I wanted to visit, feeling like I already knew them from all the books I manged to devour. The book I was reading on the trip was however not about my favorite detective but still gripping so much I had a feeling we had a third passenger in the car.

Iceland – Jar City, Arnaldur Indriðason. This is the continuation of my obsession with Scandinavian authors. A week before going on a trip to Iceland I had to pick a book set in Iceland, preferably by an Icelandic author. I’ve discovered Mr. Indriðason and his Inspector Erlendur, who’s got it even worse than Walander. His private life more than sucks and even at work he is cold and distant like the city he works in. The story kept me on the edge of my seat and even when I wanted a break and I’d look out, I still felt part of it. We’d walk into a store and I’d remember what Erlendur bought for dinner or we’d drive to Husavik and in the book he’d be trying to find someone living there. Pretty great, if you ask me.

Ireland – Born in Trilogy, Nora Roberts. Along with thrillers and historical family sagas, I love a good romance. What can I say. Especially with two kids now, I find it’s either murder or marriage. Who can resist a good love story? And nobody’s better at them then Mrs. Roberts. It coincided that I read the first book of the trilogy a few weeks before we went to Ireland, so naturally I took the other one with me. Since this was our honeymoon trip I guess I had an excuse for being all gooey and romantic. So, with my little personal love story going on, I had no trouble imagining the stories of three sisters in an Irish village in the county Clare, falling in love with their men. There are a few better places to lose yourself to someone else than Ireland.

So, how about you? Which books have made your trip better?

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