A love for travelling is one of the key ingredients of the ESN spirit. All us wanderlusters are looking for new places, new environments and new cultures to explore. But before planning a trip, we have to find a destination that peaks our interest, and these books just might inspire you to do so. Many of the places described in them are probably already on your list. Still, these works of art could offer you a fresh angle, a different approach to those destinations, and provide you with a good-quality read.
1. The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara
Before there was Che, there was Ernesto Guevara; a young medicine student in Buenos Aires. In 1952, then 23-year-old Che and his friend Alberto Granado embarked on a nine-month road trip throughout South America on a bike called La Poderosa. The Motorcycle Diaries is a detailed description of that trip, written by Che himself. This memoir is a colourful, yet very realistic portrait of the aforementioned continent, its exciting history and its eclectic culture. After reading it, you will realise how and why Ernesto Guevara became Che, one of the most inspirational and influential men of all time. Do you feel like going on a road trip through South America yourself?
2. Dubliners, James Joyce
The first time I heard of Dubliners was during a conversation with a friend of mine who was telling me about how she wanted to visit Ireland. “Why Ireland?”, I asked, and she replied, “I read Dubliners and I was hooked!” After reading it myself, I understood completely what she meant. This collection of short stories by James Joyce, one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, manages to depict the spirit of the Irish capital and its inhabitants, and to prove that it’s not buildings that make a city - it’s the people. Dubliners will truly make you want to meet the Dubliners.
3. Gösta Berling’s Saga, Selma Lagerlöf
Gösta Berling’s Saga is a best-selling novel by the Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf and one of the most famous novels of Swedish literature. In 1924, it was adapted into a silent film that introduced Greta Garbo to the world. Centered around the protagonist Gösta Berling, a deposed minister, this novel is a romanticist illustration of rural Sweden, more precisely the region of Värmland in the 1820s. Thanks to Lagerlöf’s impeccable writing skills, you will be able to clearly imagine the evergreen conifer forests and wooden cottages that surround lake Fryken. You will certainly long to go and see it in person.
4. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love is probably one of the books one would expect to appear on a list like this. After all, what inspires travelling better than a book about travelling? Thanks to the 2010 film adaptation starring Julia Roberts, Eat, Pray, Love does not need much introduction. It is a memoir which chronicles the author Elizabeth Gilbert’s trip to Italy, India and Indonesia. Gilbert’s tale is an inspirational story of all those brave people who had the courage to change their lives, to rediscover themselves and to embark on a pursuit of happiness, as well as a fascinating account of the countries the author visited.
5. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Based on the travels of Jack Kerouac and his friends across the United States, On the Road is one of the defining works of postwar Beat generation, which had a major influence on counterculture and hippie movements. Sal, one of the protagonists, narrates the story of his and his friend Dean’s road trip across the United States, and their experiences which involve poetry, jazz and drugs. With this novel, Kerouac manages to successfully capture the Zeitgeist of the postwar United States, as well as the essence of youth culture that still persists. It is one of those novels that will make you sit behind the steering wheel and drive far, far away, wherever the road takes you.
6. My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk
Written by the Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red is a fictionalised chronicle of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire as a whole. While reading this novel and following the main plotline - the investigation of the murder of a famous artist - you will get an authentic insight into the history, art, culture and spirit of the former empire and its capital. My Name Is Red is an ode to the rich cultural history of Istanbul, which can still be seen on the streets and the walls of this glorious city.
7. Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
Being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Paris hardly needs any further promotion. However, works like Les Misérables by Victor Hugo are there to remind you that there is always so much more than meets the eye. Of course, when you go to Paris, you will visit the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées. But what Hugo really wants you to encounter is the different face of the rich and fashionable Paris - the poorer Paris, the rebellious Paris, the people’s Paris. Les Misérables is a different kind of homage to the French capital and, even more importantly, to its people’s revolutionary spirit.
8. Hopscotch, Julio Cortázar
The innovative structure of Hopscotch makes this novel one of the most revolutionary works written in the twentieth century. It is a book that you can read however you want, following whatever order of chapters you want, and it still makes sense. But that is not the reason why so many young people feel inspired by it. Written by Belgium-born, Argentina-raised and France-based Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch is also a testimony to cosmopolitanism and to a free spirit that cannot settle in one place. It also represents a new approach of representing certain locations, in this case France and Argentina, giving them a personal, more emotional touch.
9. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is one of the most famous and most critically-acclaimed novels ever written. Praised not just for its complex plot, characters and structure, it is also lauded as one of the most beautiful odes to Russia and the Russian people. Leo Tolstoy’s depiction of Russian culture, history and society will certainly make you want to visit this great, magnificent country; both its monumental cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and its countryside and nature.
10. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
Around the World in Eighty Days can easily be considered as one of the first travel books ever published. In this adventure novel written by Jules Verne, British scientist Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout attempt to travel the world in eighty days in order to win a bet. To fulfil this, they go from London to Egypt, India, Hong Kong, Japan, the United States and then back to London. Reading Around the World in Eighty Days will motivate you not only to learn more about the countries depicted in it, but also to go and visit them. After all, who doesn’t dream of travelling the world?
Have you packed your suitcase yet?