No Passport Necessary

February 03, 2012

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”
—Jean Rhys

I’ve always thought one of the great benefits of reading is the peek you get into other lives and cultures. Non-fiction is great for this of course, but fiction also brings other places and cultures to life. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit for real—but I’ve visited many more places, and stayed much longer, through the books I’ve read.

Here are some of my favorite destinations, and the books, both fiction and non-fiction, that have taken me there:

Greece—As a teenager, I discovered Mary Stewart’s novels, several of which are set in Greece. My Brother Michael (Delphi), This Rough Magic (Corfu) and The Moon-Spinners (Crete) ignited my interest in visiting Greece. Four and a half years ago, I took my battered copy of My Brother Michael with me when I finally had the chance to walk in the shadow of the ruins at Delphi. Can you resist this description: “Ahead of us the mountain thrust that great buttress out into the valley, the river of olive trees swirling round it as the water swirls round the prow of  a ship, to spread out beyond into a great flat lake that filled the plain. High up, in the angle where the bluff joined the mountain, I saw it, Apollo’s temple, six columns of apricot stone, glowing against the climbing darkness of the trees behind. Above them soared the sunburned cliffs; below was a tumble, as yet unrecognizable, of what must be monument and treasury and shrine…. Above, the indescribable sky of Hellas; below, the silver tide of the olives everlastingly rippling down to the sea.”

Prince Edward Island, Canada—As a devout Anne of Green Gables fan, I still hope to visit good old PEI in person—definitely a “bucket list” travel destination.

Maine—Sarah Graves pens a terrific series of mysteries set in Maine (The Dead Cat Bounce is the first one), and Drinking the Rain was one of my favorite non-fiction reads last year. 

England—I’m a big fan of mysteries—and many of my favorite murders take place in England. Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers and many more authors show us the history of London or the tranquil countryside while mining the dark side of human nature. On a more peaceful note, Susan Allen Toth’s My Love Affair With England made me want to rent a flat, unpack and stay a while—and Scotland Yard’s services were not required.

Here’s an excerpt from Toth's piece on England’s footpaths:

“Our path turned out to be a rocky track, an easy half-mile walk, that took us gradually over a slight incline and then down to the shores of the lake. The track cut across the top of a moorland that seemed absolutely deserted, not even any sheep drifting over its barren slopes. It was late September, and under heavy gray skies, the grass looked almost brown, and the empty fells as if they had already fallen into a winter sleep.

“Devoke Water lay in a shallow bowl formed by treeless gray-green fells. The surface of the lake was absolutely still, a steely gray that seemed a mirror image of the lowering sky. An old boat house, which seemed abandoned but was securely locked, looked as ancient as the landscape to which it now belonged.”

Italy—After reading The Enchanted April  or A Room With a View, who wouldn’t want to visit Venice or rent a castle overlooking the Mediterranean? (Both of these books have been turned into lovely movies that will further whet your desire for a trip to Italy.)

In addition to these, I’ve visited New York City with Nero Wolf and Archie Goodwin, Egypt with Amelia Peabody and the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Arizona with  Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee—I could go on and on, but I want to know:

Where has your reading taken you? Where will you go next? Where do you think I should go next?

(Visit Danielle Torres' blog here for a list of 13 books set in the Middle East!)

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  1. I always enjoy learning what other people enjoy reading. I really want to go to Greece one day (that's one of my bucket list items) so I need to check out those books. I'm also interested in The Enchanted April. Interestingly, I had never read Anne of Green Gables, so we listened to it as an audio book a couple of years ago on a trip and found it delightful.

  2. Cheryl--There are lots of great sketching opportunities in Greece. Unfortunately, I went before I learned to sketch!

    I loved both the book and movie versions of The Enchanted April, and the Mary Stewarts are some of my all-time favorite books. If you read them, you'll have to let me know what you think.

  3. I could tell from reading the book The Artist on the Road Impressions of Greece that I would want to sketch all over Greece.

    I read Mary Stewart's Arthurian Saga - The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day - and loved them, so I'm sure I would enjoy the ones you mention.

  4. LOVE that Jean Rhys quote--I am going to write it down and perhaps use it as well! I really enjoyed My Brother Michael when I read it last year--I have her other Greece books as well and can't wait to get to them. And there is Delphi! (The Helen MacInnes I am very slowly reading is also set in Delphi). I've never been lucky enough to get to Greece, but someday I would like to! I read the Toth book (and have her other memoirs as well that look so interesting). Agree with you on those Italy books--A Room with a View is one of my all time favorite reads and I should really reread Enchanted April now that is is February (doesn't the book start in dreary February?). Reading is also for me a way to travel the world and I often choose books based on period, or setting. When I know I want to 'visit' Italy or someplace else I look for a book to match. Thanks for the mention, by the way. I'm just starting a book about Palestine--a memoir, which is really interesting. I might have to copy your post and share my own favorites (if you don't mind!).

  5. Danielle--It's so wonderful to be able to travel the world through books if we can't do it literally at the moment. And even if we can, it adds so much to the experience to have a book or two set in our destination under our belts, so to speak.

    And I'd be flattered if you copied my post!