Scottish writer Andrew Lang once said, “You can cover a great deal of country in books.” It’s true—and cheaper than the actual thing. But why toss the literature as soon as you have the dollars to travel? It could deprive you of a heightened experience.
Instead, try reading a book set in the country you’ll be visiting. You can discover new depths in the culture by encountering food, famous sites, and foreign chatter as you travel in person, but literature also has much to tell you. Hear that country’s voice as you travel, and add a rare color and dimension to your experience by reading novels born in these places.
At a loss as to where to start? Pass the time on those plane rides, train rides, and car rides without ever forgetting the country you’ve come so far to visit with some of these suggestions.
If you’re traveling to…
FRANCE: Try Victor Hugo’s expansive Les Misérables, if it will fit in your suitcase. The size may be intimidating at first, but it is definitely well worth the read.
SPAIN: Read The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Go to a bullfight and wander through the streets of San Sebastián.
RUSSIA: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, captures the stories of four brothers as they struggle with questions of guilt, problems of Russian social stratification, and the dilemma between religious mysticism and severe intellectualism.
CHINA: Try The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, which outlines the simple events of Wang Lung’s life against a subtle historical backdrop of a rapidly changing nation.
KENYA: Read Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen. This book draws a string of vivid sketches of Kikuyu life that can easily be read in short blocks of time between destinations.
COLOMBIA: Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera chronicles a lifelong love story in haunting poetic language, emblematic of a country lost in mystical isolation.
– Emmaleigh Litchfield