Travel by the book, Part 2 — more literature that inspires travel

by Laura Townsend Elion on March 31, 2010

Here are another six books that have inspired me to travel of the years. Over the years, the one thing guaranteed to hold my attention most in a book is a vivid description of somewhere I want to visit, or better yet a vivid presentation that creates a desire to visit a new place. Simply put, the location is, for me, the best character in the book.

These books have provided me just such inspiration. Yesterday’s column started this process, kicked off by a weekend sorting through books to give away. Tomorrow, I reveal the final handful of titles that sparked my love of travel and keep it burning.

“Nights of Rain and Stars” by Maeve Binchy. I picked this up at work to idle through a train ride. Expecting it to be some sort of romance, happily it was a well-told story about life, and travel, in a small sea-side Greek village. It rang especially true for me because many of the ‘voices’ in the novel are the tourists who are both reacting to the local tragedy they have become a part of (the burning of a ferryboat) and explaining the assorted dramas back home that they have fled. Somewhere amid all the plot developments I began to pine for those whitewashed cubist buildings and bright colored boats that are uniquely Greek.

Long before “The Da Vinci Code,” there was “The Silver Chalice” by Thomas B. Costain. I found it in sixth grade when I read it for a book report. A bit lengthy, it brings life to ancient cities through the journeys of Basil, a silversmith bought out of slavery who has been commissioned to turn Christ’s simple Last Supper cup into a Chalice worthy of his remembrance. It’s the sort of book that inspires you to travel to the modern day sites of ancient history so that you can see it in your mind.

The “Route One Collection,” as I call it, or almost anything by Carl Hiaasen, is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and make you yearn for the sunwashed tropical tawdriness that is South Florida and the Keys. “Stormy Weather” in particular hits the jackpot in describing the warmed over 70s motel flavor that permeates that pink pastel, shell encrusted world (and in conveying the chaos that a hurricane can bring). Like many of my favorite books, it has the added benefit of being so descriptively real, I can recall places I’ve been in the finest detail just by visiting them in Haissen’s books.

“Honorable Company” by Allan Mallinson goes in the opposite direction. Here the brutality of India’s colonial past is front and centre and no laughing matter, but told through a tale of historical fiction, it leads the reader through a more intricate understanding of the politics of the era even as it traipses from the battlefield to the rajah’s court. As you travel from place to place you get an eagle’s eye view of a place that is beautiful to behold but perhaps ugly to be a part of. This is one of a series and you might just find yourself hooked. If you buy the similarly named “Honourable Company: A History of the British East India Company” by John Keay you won’t be disappointed, it’s a fact based history but provides plenty of eye candy commentary. “The Last Mughal” by William Dalrymple is another good escape into the world of India’s monarchs and military past.

Moving south a bit, “Dark Safari” by John Bierman details the efforts of Sir Henry Morton Stanley to find the lost explorer Livingston in Africa. There are many books that dwell on the horrors and politics of Africa, and others that gloss over them with pretty epics, this represents a compromise that covers both a weighty subject and a lot of majestic-looking territory.

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