At the start of the year, I set a goal of reading 40 books before the end of 2020. I was anticipating it to be difficult—until the pandemic started. With lots of free time and nowhere to be, this has been an ideal time to hunker down and disappear into a book. Hungry for new material, I asked other travel bloggers for their favorite destination-based travel books to escape into—below are their recommendations!
Reading Recos: Travel Books to Escape Into
From Ellis at Backpack Adventures
Arresting God in Kathmandu by Samrat Upadhyay was the first book I read about Nepal. The book is a collection of nine short stories that might be mundane and simple, but offer an honest insight into the everyday life of the people in Nepal’s capital. Every story is rich in intricate details and elaborate characters that go through contemporary struggles in the changing society of Nepal. The worries and problems of the characters are described within their religious and cultural context, yet are easy to relate to when you read the book. This book will teach you about the nuances of Nepali culture in Kathmandu where city life challenges some of the ancient traditions of the country.
Arresting God in Kathmandu will give you a much better understanding of Nepal’s capital beyond what you will see as a foreign traveler or volunteer. The reason the book gives such an in depth look into Nepali culture is because the author is Nepali himself, and he is one of the few Nepali writers that writes in English. Although he now is American-based, Upadhyay lived in Kathmandu until he was twenty-one. Arresting God in Kathmandu was his first book and if you like it, I can recommend his other books too.
From Nils at Let’s Go Ireland
There are many great Irish books that you might consider reading when in Dublin. Yet, there is only one book that stands out not only as the greatest (Irish) novel ever written, but also as the best homage to Dublin.
James Joyce’s Ulysses introduces you to a fantastic sense of Irish humor, culture and history. It plays on a single day (June 16, 1904) and follows the footsteps and thoughts of Leopold Bloom, who is a very thoughtful and gentle character. Through him, the reader wanders the streets of Dublin and also discovers lesser known aspects of the city. Many of the locations still exist, like Davy Byrnes pub where Bloom eats lunch, or Glasnevin Cemetery where he attends a funeral procession. The book is so meticulously written that Joyce once claimed that “if [Dublin] one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of [his] book.” And it is true…if you plow through the 732 pages, you will have gotten an intimate idea to really know Dublin. No other novels can claim to manage that. So, make sure to pick up a copy of Ulysses before travelling to Dublin!
From Anne at The Platinum Line
The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series of books written by Alistair McCall Smith and set in Botswana, a small landlocked country on the edge of the Kalahari desert. The protagonist, Mma Precious Ramotswe, decides to use an inheritance from her father to set up a detective agency, the first lady in Botswana to do such a thing.
McCall Smith is a Scottish law professor who grew up in Africa and spent time teaching in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. McCall Smith is a born storyteller and the books tell the story of the growth of the agency with great warmth. In doing, so he throws light on some of the problems of the country that he and his characters obviously love. The African Miss Marple loves delving into her characters lives to solve their problems both big and small.
The first book of the series was made into a film by Anthony Minghelli and the early books were made into a television series by Richard Curtis for the BBC. The programmes were filmed in Botswana using local actors and helped introduce many viewers to this beautiful country.
Looking for more travel books to escape into? Check out my recommendations here!
From Neethu Nair at Our Backpack Tales
Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth is about true story written by a radio journalist named Lisa Napoli, who is dissatisfied with her job and about life in general. She was unexpectedly invited to help develop a new radio station, Kuzoo FM, to a remote Buddhist Kindgom called Bhutan, in the Eastern Himalayas. It was a radio station run by young volunteers and broadcasting 24 hours a day. The book is all about her experiences while volunteering to build the first youth-oriented radio station in Bhutan. She has captured the beauty and charm of this country as well as the changes she noticed Bhutan was undergoing as it opened its doors to the outside world.
Bhutan has changed a lot since the book was written, but its still as charming and unique. I traveled to Bhutan last year and it has been one of my best trips ever. The Bhutanese people have a beautiful connection with nature and protect their culture and traditions so fiercely, it is awe-inspiring. It is one place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
From Mario at Rest and Recuperation
Edward Rutherfurd is one of my favorite authors. His books usually cover one destination, be it a town, a village, or a region, through history. His ability to link together different families throughout a time span of thousand years makes all the book a fascinating piece of research. Furthermore, you get to learn very well the destination he writes about.
Of his books, my favorite is London, which starts in the B.C. era where only few people lived in shacks around River Thames. Some thousands years later, the same families are still together during the XX century events. In the middle, historical figures such as Julius Caesar and Shakespeare appear in the book, with their families around them. Some will be acting with the latter; others will participate in the building of Tower Bridge.
All the main places that you know of London, or that you see during your visits, are described very well in the book. Rutherfurd gives a new light to the many monuments of the British capital. A must-read for tourists and Londoners.
From Megan at Red Around the World
My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth by Wendy E. Simmons is an educational and entertaining encounter of her time visiting one of the most secretive nations in the world: North Korea. While most people want out, she wanted in. She wanted to see what the country was really like but she just got to see what they wanted her to, like every other visitor. At first Wendy is entertained, but the longer she is there, the more upset and perplexed she is by what she sees.
North Korea has always fascinated me, so this book was perfect for me. If you want an entertaining and eyeopening book about what it’s like to see North Korea as a visitor, look no further. It may not offer the deepest looking into life in North Korea, but it’s still an interesting read. It’s full of color pictures to take you around Pyongyang and even to a wedding.
From Wendy at The Nomadic Vegan
In Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co., a young crime reporter in Canada, Jeremy Mercer, finds himself on the run after receiving a death threat from a disgruntled member of the criminal underworld. He ends up in Paris, with his money quickly running out and nowhere to go. In a stroke of luck, Jeremy finds out about Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop across the Seine from Notre Dame (pictured in the cover photo for this story). The elderly owner, George Whitman, allows pretty much anyone to sleep in the bookstore for as long as they need to. His only requirements are that they help out in the store, write a one-page autobiography, and read one book per day.
During his five-month stay, Jeremy becomes a part of the quirky Bohemian life of Paris and meets many other lost souls who pass through the bookstore. Some are there for only a few days, while others stay for years. When he finds out that the future of the bookstore is in danger, he even hatches a wild idea to save it. And miraculously, it worked. George Whitman sadly passed away in 2011 at the age of 98, but Shakespeare and Company is still in operation, now run by his daughter Sylvia. It’s been modernized slightly, with a credit card machine and an attached café serving some of the best vegetarian food in Paris. But it’s still run according to George Whitman’s motto: “Be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise”.
Looking for other ways to satisfy your lockdown wanderlust? Check out my list of travel-related things to do in lockdown here!