Every once in a while, a book comes along that not only takes me on a magical literary journey but also scratches my sometimes dormant but often itchy travel bug into action.
It is not always the “travelogues” that intrigue me. Often, the most unlikely books, those that at first sight might not speak of travel, have the power to evoke wanderlust.
The Gilded Chalet: Off-Piste in Literary Switzerland by Padraig Rooney – A spur-of-the-moment buy, The Gilded Chalet remains one of my favorite reads.
In the book, Rooney covers various literary figures that have, at one time or another, called Switzerland their home. Whether it is Byron and Shelley or the celebrated Rousseau, the alluring Swiss landscape has made the history of the nation wealthy with literary figures.
In discovering the authors, the stories told often intertwine with Switzerland’s neutral political past, along with details about the various regions. This gives the reader an in-depth look at Swiss culture and thinking. These details make the book a perfect read for anyone interested in literature as well as those wanting to travel to Switzerland.
Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta – Hot Tea Across India is less about tea and more about the adventures of its author Rishad Saam Mehta.
Tea connoisseurs might be a little disappointed, but then, there are enough references to the drink, especially the importance of having tea in its purest form. It does pop up now and then as Rishad travels across different terrains of the country on his bike.
Whether you are an adventurous soul like the author who wants to ride his Bullet to Leh or if you need to relax and take it easy in a shikara on the Dal Lake in Kashmir, the book serves as an informative guide catering to all sorts of travelers.
Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler – A book that looks at Japanese culture from the inside but from the viewpoint of a foreigner.
Learning to Bow is about Bruce’s year as a teacher in small-town Japan. Japanese heritage is exceptionally fascinating to outsiders, and the author tackles every aspect of the country in a personal way but with an open mind.
The book especially works well for anyone who plans to not just live in Japan but anywhere else in the world, as it highlights the importance of respecting and acknowledging the cultures and traditions of the host nation.
The Beach by Alex Garland – The book that made backpacking mainstream.
I still believe that until this book came out, backpacking was a less popular way to travel. However, The Beach, even after its intense fictional drama, managed to showcase the idea of a beautiful, carefree world where friendships happen at the spur of the moment. Everything doesn’t end well, but that’s for you to find out.
Now, backpacking has become a rite of passage, a trend adopted by Millennials, especially with enthusiasm and élan.
A story set in South East Asia, the book remains one of my all-time favorites and one that encourages me to try new things in life.
I do strongly advise you to miss the movie, though… it sucks!
Escobar as told by Roberto Escobar – Not precisely linked to travel, but reading about the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, I’ve had a wish to visit Medellin someday.
The city comes across as a hard place with a gentle soul. It might have seen its share of problems, but it has a pure heart and seeped into local culture.
More recently, the Netflix series Narcos made the story of Escobar more common, and it has only added to my curiosity about the city.
Tuscany for Beginners by Imogene Edwards-Jones – A fun and light read, the book, which is a humorous look at the love life of an expat living in Tuscany, brings about the region’s beauty, and more so of the people that inhabit the place.
A fictional account, the book captures the essence of expat living with the rustic beauty of Tuscany thrown in for good measure.
The book’s blurb states, “Tuscany. Glorious Tuscany. With its sunflowers, its olive groves, its rolling countryside and its stunning vistas, it is everyone’s picture-perfect place in the sun.” – I’m Sold!
Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein – A book that managed to fuel my fascination with Japan even more.
Adelstein gives an intriguing no-holds-barred look at journalism in a country with strict traditions and cultural practices that will surprise you to no end.
The best part about the book is that through Adelstein, we get to see and understand Japan from a never before seen angle, that of a foreigner who has his hand on the pulse of Tokyo that is off the tourist radar.
Sholay: The Making of a Classic by Anupama Chopra – A book about the making of India’s most celebrated movie, Sholay.
How is it linked to travel?
Well, I would like one day love to visit the little village, Ramanagram, which served as the backdrop/set for the majority of the film. It has a certain nostalgic charm with its rugged terrain and naturally numerous iconic places/images thanks to the film, which has been viewed many times over my lifetime.
My research tells me there is very little to see there besides “rocks,” but looking at the way commercialism is happening, how long do we have before a little Sholay-World pops up on location?
Unlikely, but still.
From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth – Although I am yet to read his most famous work, A Suitable Boy, Seth’s From Heaven Lake remains one of my all-time favorite travelogues.
Recounting his journey to India via Tibet as a student at Nanjing University in China, Seth makes the reader not only fall in love with his words but manages to describe his experiences in a lyrical yet straightforward manner.
If you ever want to ignite the feeling of wanderlust in yourself, then this book will, without a doubt, do that in a heartbeat.
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky – The idea of being on an isolated island somewhere in the middle of the ocean is just divine.
Atlas of Remote Islands book covers 50 such islands that are hard to get to, but to those who make it there, they offer a sneak peek into “heaven.”
Now, just to overcome my fear of flying in small planes and pack my bags.
Such a shame I havent read any of these books, but reading the short desctiptions, they sound super interesting. I would take The Beach for the first read, as it got my attention the most. Thank you for recommendations, I will definitely save this post for later.
Some great recommendations here! I’m ashamed to say, but I haven’t read any of these books. “Tuscany for Beginners” sounds like something I’d enjoy reading. Thanks for these ideas.
I have to admit I haven’t read even one of the books in the list. I think Learning to Bow and Escobar will be my first two choices when I get a chance to read. Seems like both books depict the real life in those 2 places to me.
Love book lists. I have only read The Beach out of this list. I did not know Vikram Seth had written another book – From Heaven Lake. I really enjoyed A Suitable Boy. Thanks for sharing. Another one I love is A Fortune Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani.
Learning to bow sounds really interesting. I like books in particular that cover personal experiences. I’ve seen the Netflix series of Narcos, and now Narcos Messico, and both are so good. I’d also be keen to read the literary version.
I have not read any of these books but seen Sholay film. These books look great and now I am intrigued by these 10 books as their main theme is travel. Tea across India must be a fun read though they have not focussed on tea but different terrains of India and that too on a motorbike. As I have seen Sholay, so book based on the making of this movie must also be great. Thanks for sharing some unique travel books with us.
That’s a very unusual listing. Esp., quite amused to see Sholay making listed in this. I haven’t read any of these. May be I should try one.
I must confess traveling on the go has actually affected my reading habit. I have been reading very few books and I definitely needed a list like this where I could pick some books and order them asap. I think I would like to know the perspective of a teacher in a small town in Japan, (Learning to Bow) and I would love to know Tuscany. As far as the place where Sholay was shot, I have been there. Good to know there is a book on it and about the making of it.
I have been planning to update my book list and this is really timely. I am really interested to read Tuscany for Beginners. Hope I would be able to grab a copy.
I just visited Japan for the first time in December and quickly grew fascinated with its culture, so I am adding Learning to Bow and Tokyo Vice to my wish list right now. It just seems like there are so many contradictions in the culture – on the one hand everyone is so polite and civilized, but then on the other hand stories like those told in Tokyo Vice have occurred, so it’s hard to fully wrap your head around everything that embodies this culture without taking a deeper dive. Thanks for your recs!