This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg.
Reading is one of the pleasures of travel, be it during the journey to get somewhere or as a lazy afternoon treat on a beach or in a new city’s cafe. Here are 6 travel reads that inspired me to keep wandering, sorted by country.
1. The Dominican Republic
What to read: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Set partially in the Dominican Republic and partially in New Jersey (where Diaz was raised), the book tells the story of Oscar de Léon and his extended family. Told in turn by Oscar’s troubled sister Lola and family friend Yunior, the book blends science fiction, nerdy fandom and history in one sad but unforgettable narrative. Lots of history from the Dominican Republic interspersed within the family story.
What to read: The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time by Simon Winchester. Drawn to the beauty of Ten thousand li, a stunning 53 foot scroll by Wang Hui, Winchester works his way along the length of the river in reverse, from its mouth at the South China Sea to the looming plateaus of Tibet where the river begins. The book covers the history and geography of the Yangtze beautifully, with personal anecdotes about what Winchester calls “the delicious strangeness of China.” While the book was written in 1996, it is a well-researched, fascinating way to discover the tangled mass of culture, people and geography along the Yangtze’s edge.
3. Myanmar (Burma)
What to read: The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint U. Burma is a complicated place, and travel to the country requires some context and history. This is easily the most beautifully written and thorough history of the country, making sense of the horror and wonder from centuries of tumult. Lost Footsteps manages to explain so much about the Burma of today. The country has some incredible sights on offer (Inle Lake below is just one of them) but it reading up ahead of time is highly recommended.
What to read: The Seven Ages of Paris by Alastair Horne. Horne’s long love letter to Paris, starting with Caesar and Abélard and moving through the ages, is a dense but excellent read. The book blends the passionate politics of the city with its art and music and scandalous royal class, resulting in a great, enlightening book spanning Paris’ lifetime.
What to read: Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham. Caught in the cross-roads of many decisions, Pham abandons a burgeoning career in engineering (despite his parents’ pleas to the contrary), and embarks on a new path of freelance writing. “I am a mover of betweens” he writes, “I slip among classifications, like water in cupped palms.” After his sister’s suicide, Pham decides discover his roots by travelling Vietnam by bicycle, beginning in Ho Chi Minh City. Alternating between Pham’s desperate desire to find himself and the painful, often harrowing flashbacks of his father’s imprisonment in a Viet Cong death camp, the book comes together beautifully. Disgusted by modern-day Saigon and alienated from the Vietnamese he meets on his trip, Pham tries to find a balance between his family’s haunting saga, the country he thought he loved and the person he has become.
What to read: In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams by Tahir Shah. With one foot in the East and the other in the West, Shah’s memoir about his new home in Morocco, Dar Khalifa, and search for the teaching stories that provide a foundation of learning in the East is a captivating read. A great combination of terrific storytelling, cultural quirks and travel adventures.
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What are your favorite travel reads? Leave them in the comments!