There’s nothing like a good book to take you on a virtual journey to an exotic land long before you have your passport stamped. And there’s no better way to get acquainted with a country or culture than by reading literature set against the pulse of a city.
Writers have long used their words to describe the sights, sounds, and smells around us, luring us into adventures that stimulate us to take our own journeys. From Istanbul to Tokyo, India to the Appalachian Trail, novels and travelogues spirit us away to new locations.
As summer gears up and travel plans begin to unfold, let’s take a look at 15 page-turning books that will inspire wanderlust. Get your bags ready for this literary tour around the world.
Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
The touching memoir speaks to the cultural change moving over Istanbul as it advances toward modernity, leaving its past behind.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s memoirs about his time as a struggling writer in 1920s Paris. His encounters with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, as well as his detailed notes on the places he frequented, helps paint a picture of the French capital between World Wars.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
No one exemplifies the layers and subtlety of Tokyo and Japanese culture quite like Haruki Murakami. This epic novel is partly a recounting of a disintegrating marriage, partly a detective novel, and definitely an entry into life inside the Tokyo suburbs.
New York, New York
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Salinger’s version of New York might be buried in pseudonyms, but with some decoding, it’s clear that this account of teenage rebellion can’t be ripped from its setting.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The first of four volumes known at the Neapolitan Novels. Ferrante’s story follows the lives of two girls as they grow into womanhood in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples.
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
The ultimate wanderer’s tale, the Brazilian author’s book follows a young Andalusian shepherd driven to travel to Egypt after having a recurring dream that he will find treasure there.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
In 1974, Chatwin spent six months in Patagonia, gathering the stories of people who had come from elsewhere to settle in the area. The result is an ode to the nomadic lifestyle.
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Cloudstreet chronicles the lives of two families over a twenty-year period, from 1943 to 1963, as they live together in one house in Perth. Since its publication in 1991, it’s widely considered one of the top novels in Australia.
NW by Zadie Smith
Smith captures a different side of London as she follows the lives of four locals growing up in the northwest part of the city. Smith captures the different realities of contemporary urban life by showing how a group of young people moves into adulthood after being raised in a working-class public housing block.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
The beautiful, allegorical tale speaks of India immediately as it gained its independence, and follows its struggle—symbolized by a young boy—as it seeks to regain a national identity.
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
A fascinating look at life in Vienna on the cusp of World War II and the rise and fall of the Ephrussi family, a Jewish banking dynasty that moves through Odessa, Vienna, and Paris.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau’s musings on simple living in nature, published in 1854, was the fruit of holing himself up in a cabin at the picturesque Walden Pond. The lessons learned continue to ring true today.
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
The incredible, first-hand account of an Austrian mountaineer who finds himself in Tibet between 1944 and 1951, where he befriends the 14th Dalai Lama.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
This memoir by then 23-year-old Che Guevara, prior to his turn as a Marxist revolutionary, is a classic coming-of-age tale that sees young medical student and a friend embark on a motorcycle journey across South America.
Bryson’s travelogue of his walk along the Appalachian Trail with friend Stephen Katz mixes his signature humor infused style with serious musings on nature, animals, people, and ecology.