A Late-Summer Reading List for Travelers
As Travelocity’s self-professed resident bookworm, I’ve been releasing a summer reading list here on The Window Seat for the past few years (you can find last year’s list here), with books themed toward readers who want to travel somewhere through the page. But once again, nearly an entire summer has gone by and I’m behind in releasing my list (I guess I’ve just been too busy READING). So, without further delay, and before the 2011 summer travel season comes to a close, here are five atmospheric tales from around the world that each convey a real sense of place, from Barcelona to Brazil.
- Destination: Spain
Book: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Since I’m heading to Barcelona in October, I just had to read this popular tale originally published in Spanish and set in the city’s labyrinthine Medieval Quarter during the Franco regime. While this one’s got all the tropes and camp of a good Gothic tale (forbidden love, spectral visions, gargoyles, and a haunted mansion), it’s not overwrought, and while the plot twists, turns, hits dead ends, and then soldiers on again, I found it a fun, spooky, and enjoyable romp through the city of Barcelona, its magic, and its history, both light and dark.
- Destination: Brazil
Book: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
A Minnesota researcher searches a remote outpost of the Amazon for the truth about her missing colleague. With vivid descriptions, you can practically hear all the rainforest bugs buzzing, feel the intense humidity, and experience the isolation and wonder of the main protagonist as she tries to solve the region’s many mysteries. Even though the language and descriptions of the landscape could be quite beautiful at times, what I loved most about this book was what wasn’t said. The author trusts her reader to come to her own conclusions.
- Destination: Russia and Germany
Book: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine
Author: Alina Bronsky
This is my book club’s current selection and I started off disliking it because the main character is just a horrible person. But the writing grew on me, until I got to a point where I couldn’t put the book down. The book explores ethnic identity and belonging in the larger context of both family and country (and yes, food). The book starts off amid the food shortages of Russia, where the main character has to resort to steeping onions in a glass of water to leach out the “vitamins,” and ends amid the overflowing chocolate boxes of a much more indulgent Germany. Both destinations are rendered vividly but through the very tiny lens of a very opinionated protagonist as she claws her way, however misguided, to try and make a better life.
- Destination: Vietnam
Book: Matterhorn – A Novel of the Vietnam War
Author: Karl Marlantes
Not exactly a light read, this novel succeeds in throwing you, the reader, into the muck, confusion, and geographical forces at work in the Vietnam jungle (near Laos) during the war. There is no mincing words or sanitizing the drama, the author throws you into situations that are morally ambiguous at best and into terrain both toothsome and terrifying—so much so that nature herself often seems to be the enemy. The soldiers must navigate that damp desperation, the darkness, and the steep hills with the threat of tigers or malaria-infested mosquitoes or human foes seemingly hidden like a series of demented jack-in-the-boxes behind every bend.
- Destination: Mississippi
Book: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Author: Tom Franklin
A girl goes missing in a small southern town, reopening old wounds, racial tensions, and mysteries. This is crime fiction at its best, and both the rural landscape and the town itself seem somehow fecund and decaying at the same time. In the flashbacks, you can really feel the pleasure that young boys found in the southern setting, with streams to fish in, fields to hunt in, and the world just one big playground. And with so much dense woodland, abandoned houses, and fallow fields, you realize there’s so much room for secrets, and so much room to hide.
So, what about you? Read any good books this summer that have transported you somewhere else?
Barcelona gargoyle photo courtesy of IgoUgo member Celia Coene
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.