When you’re not actually traveling, reading a book is about as close to immersing yourself in another world as possible. Sometimes better. Who wants to navigate the cluster**** that is the TSA line or deal with flight delays, cancellations, and packed lounges? It’s why I’m staying put this week. In fact, I can’t wait to lock myself in the house, enjoy the indoor warmth, gorge on pizza, and get lost in a stack of great books.
Perhaps you are in the former group, in which case there’s nothing like a good book to drown out the noise around you (without the excruciating pain of noise-canceling headphones). Regardless of what you’re up to during the holidays, here are 9 great books to keep you entertained and maybe even inspire you to travel:
City of Thieves by David Benioff
As the producer of Game of Thrones, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that David Benioff is an exceptional storyteller. City of Thieves has been described as “the perfect story” and I couldn’t agree more. Set in St. Petersburg during the Siege of Leningrad, City of Thieves follows two jailbirds who are sent on a mission to procure a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a high-ranking General’s daughter. What ensues is a funny, heartwarming ode to friendship and the dangers of blind loyalty.
I’m one of those people who can stay stone-faced during a movie but I will cry while reading a book. City of Thieves was no exception, because of the profound truth it reveals about the plight of the powerful vs. powerless. Aside from an enthralling story, the book also takes readers through 1940’s St. Petersburg. While it’s obviously a magnificent city, reading City of Thieves really put it on my radar as a city I’d like to visit. If you’re looking for travel inspiration through a wonderful story, look no further than City of Thieves.
The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah
The Caliph’s House chronicles writer Tahir Shah’s decision to move his family from England to Casablanca, Morocco. He purchases a grand mansion once inhabited by the city’s Caliph (religious leader) and sets about renovating it. The only problem? The home is purportedly haunted by the fabled jinn and before the renovation can commence, the family has to perform several rituals to cleanse the place of its paranormal inhabitants.
In the midst of this stressful renovation, he meets various colorful characters, travels throughout the country and learns to navigate a confusing new culture (#storyofmylife). You’ll put this book down only to research award booking options to Morocco, and lucky for you there are plenty.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
David Sedaris’ hilarious autobiography, Me Talk Pretty One Day, recounts his life-long struggle to fit in and speak “pretty”. First, as a young boy growing up with a lisp and navigating an intolerant world. Then as an adult living in France and trying to adapt to the difficult language and culture. I read it while traveling through France two years ago, and there were definitely moments in the book that I could relate to at the time.
Me Talk Pretty One Day was one of those few books that had me laughing out loud, and not in an LOL kind of way. Reading it also gave me the idea to start the #tweetingbookclub. I left the book at Heathrow at the end of my trip, with a note instructing the person who found it to read and share his/her thoughts with the hashtag. Two years on, I have yet to hear from the finder, though I imagine he/she was pushing a trash cart and didn’t even give it a second look before tossing it away…
Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole
Ever wonder what life is like, traveling full time for a living? Look no further than Cruising Attitude. Heather Poole’s autobiographical account of her early days as a flight attendant offers a thoughtful perspective on the challenges and joys of one of the toughest, most underpaid careers out there. Covering topics ranging from relationships to finances and everything in between, Cruising Attitude is a must-read for any frequent traveler. If nothing else, you’ll gain an appreciation for a profession that is too often discounted as a “glorified waitress” job.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Me Before You is one of those books that was savagely butchered on the silver screen. As much as I like Emilia Clarke, she was awful in her role as Lou and her eyebrows did way too much of the acting. The book is actually way more interesting than the ridiculous rom-com the movie turned into. Dealing with serious topics like euthanasia and personal freedom, this is far more than just some flighty romance novel.
Reading Me Before You gave me a greater sense of appreciation for my own health and mobility. You’ll want to pack your bags and visit rural England or fly off to Mauritius to experience the incredible beauty described in the book. I’ve said it before: Travel is a privilege, a fact Me Before You demonstrates beautifully.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
If you appreciate satire and witty banter, look no further than Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Set in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, the book is narrated by various characters discussing the mysterious disappearance of Bernadette Fox (no spoilers). Bernadette, an agoraphobic architect who has lost her creative spark, vanishes just before a family vacation to Antarctica, leaving her daughter Bee in search of clues that might lead to answers.
If this premise sounds completely bizarre, give it a chance because it makes for a very interesting read. The book explores the anxieties and fears of people who are incapable of leaving their homes. It may even inspire you to overcome any trepidation about traveling in an increasingly unsafe world.
The Spy of the Heart by Robert Abdul Hayy Darr
Over the years, readers who learned I was from Afghanistan have reached out to share their hippie trail stories with me. I love hearing about what it was like to travel through Afghanistan during the “safe period” and the magnificent adventures they had along the way. The Spy of the Heart is one such account, during slightly more turbulent times.
Inspired by the works of Idries Shah, Robert Darr heads to Afghanistan in 1989 – seven months after the Soviet withdrawal and subsequent civil war outbreak. On his quest for spiritual discovery, Darr finds himself navigating dangerous terrain and encounters with the Mujahideen.
The Spy of the Heart provides incredible insight into a travel experience that has become rare these days. Most people traveling to Afghanistan are rightfully concerned about safety and often end up writing trip reports about their guest house and ride from the airport. Robert’s account is a throw-back to a time when people truly immersed themselves into the places they visited. Safety be damned!
Full disclosure: Robert has been a friend of my grandparents’ since they moved to the U.S. in the 1980’s. About a decade ago, he visited my parents’ home and mentioned the publication of his (then) new book. That was the first time I actually met “Bob” and how I came across Spy of the Heart.
Fun fact: If the name Idries Shah sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the father of Tahir Shah, author of The Caliph’s House.
Crazy Rich Asians trilogy by Kevin Kwan
The Crazy Rich Asians movie may be a huge success, but the book deserves its own hype. I found it to be a hilarious, delightful read. So much so that I quickly went through all three books. Travel hackers will appreciate the references to Singapore Airlines first class suites, famous hotels like the Marina Bay Sands, and the city’s many tourist attractions. Because let’s face it, Singapore is like the third most popular destination for travel hackers (thanks to Cathay Pacific and the ease of accruing American miles). And yes, I was furiously writing down the names and descriptions of hawker stalls and restaurants for my next trip to Singapore.
The second book, China Rich Girlfriend, takes a bit of a turn into soap opera land and is set primarily in Hong Kong. There is no shortage of bougie restaurants and hotels to jot down for your next trip to the city. You’ll especially appreciate the opening scene, which includes a delightful exchange between a flight attendant and supporting character, who boards a British Airways flight and takes issue with their definition of “first class.” I love good satire and Crazy Rich Asians really delivers on that front. It’s a fun, light read that will make you want to pack your bags and head to Singapore. Or stay home and read about it.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Before The Godfather became one of the most critically acclaimed films in history, Mario Puzo was commissioned to write the book. I’m a sucker for any story involving the early 20th century New York City immigrant experience. The Godfather offered plenty of perspective on that front. From describing the cramped tenements of the time to famous landmarks in the city, you really get the sense that you’ve stepped back in time when reading this book. You’ll want to head down to Little Italy and see what’s left of its colorful past. Or better yet, check out the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side for a close-up look at how families like the Corelones would have lived in the early 20th century (pre-mafia wealth, of course).
If I’m perfectly honest, I did not like The Godfather the first time I saw it. There were way too many characters and their relationships to each other weren’t clear. So I picked up the book and stayed up all night reading it. Once I understood the characters’ backgrounds better, the story came alive for me. If you love the movie, read the book. If you don’t, read the book anyway. It will make you enjoy the movie more.
What are some of your book picks for those traveling or in need of in-home entertainment this holiday season? Share in the comment section or via Twitter, using the hashtag #tweetingbookclub to win a copy of a book from this list.