Over the years, I’ve read a lot of travel fiction/non-fiction but there are some books that remain dear to me. Some I read during my formative years before I was old enough or could afford to travel abroad. I read two of them while I was at university and they inspired me to push the boundaries of my travel experience further.
If you look closely at the header photo, you’ll only notice four of the books I mention below. That’s because I failed to keep the original copy of the fifth and never got around to buying another to replace it. In spite of this, the story is still in my heart. Here are the 5 books that inspired me to travel abroad and changed the course of my life.
1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Say what you want but fantasy fiction is the ultimate escapist’s tool. After reading about the adventures of Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund, I yearned to find my own magical wardrobe that would transport me from my hot little island to cold climates with lots of snow, fauns, and talking animals. I also secretly wanted to try Turkish Delight, Edmund’s Achilles heel.
“Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.”
2. Men and Gods by Rex Warner
While growing up, I enjoyed reading about ancient Greek mythology. In Men and Gods, I especially loved the stories about Perseus, Ceres and Proserpine, and Daedalus and Icarus. These tales transported me to a realm where anything could happen. I especially admired the powerful female goddesses like Diana and loved that not all the stories had happy endings, just like in real life.
“My advice to you, Icarus,’ he said, ‘is to fly at a moderate height. If you go too low, the sea-water will weigh the feathers down; if you go too high, the heat of the sun will melt the wax. So you must fly neither too high nor too low. The best thing is to follow me.”
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Although Jane Eyre is one of my top books of all time, it was the other Bronte sister’s Wuthering Heights that made me ache for England and her moody moors. This was the first story I read that delved into the complexities of anti-heroic protagonists like Heathcliff and really captured the connection between character and landscape in a vivid way.
“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”
4. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
I know it sounds like a cliché but this book really got me excited about independent travel. I read it just before I set off on an overland trip across Egypt and Jordan and despite the circumspect behavior of some of the characters, I really enjoyed how Kerouac translated his open-hearted attitude to life in his stream-of-consciousness writing style.
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
5. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This was one of the books that really made me fall in love with the writer’s perception of her home country. Not the dusty, Taj Mahal version of the subcontinent but the fecund, South Indian part of it. Although it’s largely a tragic story, I wanted to live in Kerala just to try Mammachi’s illegal banana jam and watch the Kathakali dancers do their epic performances.
“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst…But by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. “