I can’t remember the last time I went somewhere without a book in my bag. There is no better way to pass the time on a long train journey, a layover, or a rainy afternoon than to dive back in to a much loved story and get lost in a different world. Here are my top 5 recommendations of books to read while on the move.
1. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
“Here I was at the end of America…no more land…and nowhere to go but back”
To me, this is the iconic road trip novel. On the Road follows Sal Paradise as he journeys aimlessly back and forth across America and Mexico with an ever-changing group of equally aimless friends. I loved it because it is equal parts beautiful, funny and sad but also because Sal’s journey took him through a lot of the same places as mine did: starting in New Jersey and zig-zagging across the country through New York, Chicago and up and down the California coast. No book has ever captured in the same way that giddy feeling of being in a new place for the first time and wanting to see and do and experience absolutely everything. It’s a breathless, thrilling ride through the ups and downs of travelling, as well as the ups and downs of friendship, relationships and getting older. Even though it is about to celebrate it’s 60th birthday, On the Road still feels timeless and incredibly relevant and I am sure it will for a long time to come.
2. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
“How wild it was, to let it be”
It’s the book that lit a match that turned into a wildfire: Wild got a whole generation of women pulling on their hiking boots, holding tight to their independence and grabbing life in both hands. The impact it had – both the book and the film – can’t be understated. You only need to watch the Gilmore Girls revival to see how much of a parody of itself it has become: Lorelai goes to New Mexico to hike the PCT and finds crowds of women ‘doing wild’ and attempting to find themselves on the trail. It may be fiction, but it comes from real life. However, Wild has become so popular for a reason, and that reason is because it is a damn good book. It’s gritty and real and inspiring: it never shies away from how bad things can get and how heart-breaking life can be, which makes it so much more compelling than a straightforward happy ending. I loved everything about it; especially the way people on the trail were described so realistically and the excellent use of quotes in all of the guidebooks Cheryl encountered on her trip. The first time I finished it, I had to stop myself from throwing everything I owned into a backpack and setting off to hike to the ends of the Earth.
3. East of Eden – John Steinbeck
“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘thou mayest not.”
I would truly argue that this is, quite simply, the best book of all time. It’s such a ridiculously impractical travel book (even my 9pt-font battered paperback comes in at 665 pages and weighs approximately the same as a small brick) but I can’t help it: I just want to read it again and again. In essence, it’s a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel: generations of warring brothers loving and hating each other against a backdrop of 1920s California. I read this book (for the third time) as we drove through Salinas valley where the book is mostly set and it just added an extra layer to an already incredible book. It can be a little bit dense and heavy at times but it’s the kind of story that really gets you asking the big questions. Even months after finishing it you might find yourself thinking about good vs evil and free will vs predetermination and you may have to read it again just to see if the answers to these questions are hidden inside the pages.
4: Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff – Christopher Moore
“Oh, I get it,” I said. “It’s a parable. Cute. Let’s go eat.”
There is really no way to describe the plot of this book without sounding like a complete lunatic, but here goes: it’s the missing gospel of the new testament, telling the story of teenage Jesus from the point of view of his best friend Levi (known as Biff). It sounds ridiculous (because it is) but it’s also so well-written, absolutely hilarious and surprisingly informative. Jesus gets into all kinds of scrapes on his journey to becoming the Messiah: including accidentally inventing the cappucino in the dessert outside Jerusalem, fighting a demon with the help of a Chinese concubine and befriending a Yeti in the Himalayas. It’s totally off the wall but it’s so much fun: balancing light-hearted hilarity with bigger moral questions to create a book that is so quotable I could talk about it all day. After all, how could you not want to read a book with lines like “go away, your feet are misshapen and your eyebrows grow together in a threatening way.” or “a little mucus is nothing against the power of the Lord.”? It’s a literary masterpiece, I tell you!
5. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
“Once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t. Or will-depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.”
In Cold Blood (written by Truman Capote with a little help from To Kill a Mockingbird’s Harper Lee) is the Grandaddy of true crime novels. It was the first time an actual murder was told as a fictional story and it’s so painstakingly and meticulously researched that it almost feels like you were there. Set in Holcomb, Kansas it follows the murders of four members of the Clutter family and how their killers were eventually captured. It’s a true testament to the book that even though you know exactly what is going to happen it is still so packed with tension and uncertainty. It’s also incredible how the killers (Perry Smith and Dick Hickock) are written in such a 3-dimensional way, especially when it would have been so easy to show them as pure evil villains. Instead, you end up feeling so much sympathy for Perry that it’s almost uncomfortable. If you liked Making a Murderer, In Cold Blood explores a lot of similar themes about innocence, guilt and responsibility. It may not be a light-hearted holiday read, but it is absolutely fascinating.
BONUS: take a notepad
Okay – this isn’t really book, but if you have a little extra space in your bag you should pack a notepad. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, or what you use it for: to-do lists, journalling, scrapbooking or sketching. There is no right or wrong way to document your travels but it’s always a good idea to note things down somewhere. I have a book where I keep all of those little pieces of memories that would otherwise get lost; like tickets, birthday cards, photographs or leaflets. It’s always so much fun to look back at them and remember all the places you have been and the things you have done. And who knows, those things may eventually come in handy if you decide to write a travel blog!
I am always looking for new books to read and would love to hear your suggestions in the comments!