Most people will already know that reading is one of my favourite things to do. If I’m not found with a book in my hand you can guarantee that there will be one in my bag. Even when I go out, to the pub or to the cinema, I still carry a book on me just in case I find myself with a few spare minutes to get lost in the pages of a book. And for those times when getting a book out seems too unsociable, having books downloaded on my phone means that I can just pretend I’m reading a very important and incredibly long message from someone. I don’t do that when I’m out with you though. Honest 😉
When I’m off travelling to a new place I think one of the best ways to find out about somewhere is to read a book. Not the normal Rough Guides or Lonely Planet guide books but proper reading books. Whether it’s a travel memoir, factual book or a fictional story, I’ve found out some great things about places I’m going to and have got some very handy tips.
The #travelbookclub on Twitter, created by Emily of TheGrownUpGapYear, has encouraged me to read even more books on travel. Although I’m not sure that’s such a good thing as it’s just making me add more places to my ever expanding bucket list!
Before I went to Africa I read Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden. I don’t usually read factual books like this, as all the history and dates usually send me off into a trance, and this was a pretty fat book, but it had been highly recommended and I really wanted to find out about the history of all the countries we would be visiting. Out of all the books I’ve read this is probably the one that has had the biggest effect on me. I found out so much about a continent that I fell deeply in love with and the book had me both laughing and crying whether I was on the train or at my desk at work.
As soon as I had booked our trip to India I started making a list of books I needed to read before going. (I don’t yet have a book list for my trip to South America next year so please let me know of any good books I can get stuck into!) I scoured the internet – Amazon and forums – to find some great books about the places we’ll be going to and got lots of suggestions from people. I managed to narrow it down to the following list:
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
- The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
- City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
- The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi
Shantaram is probably the one I’ve struggled with most so far. At times I found it really difficult to get into but at other times I couldn’t put it down. Drugs, violence, Indian mafia, Bollywood and love – the book covers everything and it was great to read that, despite Roberts having a very hard life after escaping to India, he still loved the country very much.
The White Tiger definitely has a lot of moments that were exactly how I pictured India to be and Life of Pi is one of my favourites for its fantasy aspect, plus it’s full of animals!
Other books I’ve loved are Love With a Chance of Drowning where the author sails around the world with her boyfriend despite being terrified of the water; Swahili for the Broken Hearted which gave me some tips for my overland trip across Africa; Road to Rouen which made me realise that I can still travel in the future when we have children; and Memoirs of a Geisha which sparked my desire to travel to Japan years ago. Even Karl Pilkington somehow manages to make me want to visit new places!
Each and every one has had me taking down notes on places to visit, things to see, foods to try and key phrases to use. Guide books may tell you the most touristy places to go and the most affordable places to stay, but a story will tell you about the life of a place, and that’s what I travel to see.
So I stood around that big square of books. Standing around books, even books in a foreign language, you feel a kind of electricity buzzing up toward you, Your Excellency. It just happens, the way you get erect around girls wearing tight jeans. Except here what happens is that your brain starts to hum.” – Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger