The best literature can transport you to other worlds, no matter how mundane your surroundings. Even if you’re stuck in traffic on the bus, flipping open one of the books below will have you walking the streets of downtown Tokyo, searching for safe haven during a West African war for independence or hurtling through deep space.
Blloon editors Tara Jane Seton and Sarah Moriarty put their heads together and came up with a selection of the best wanderlust-inspiring novels. If you need inspiration for your next trip, or are lucky enough to be exploring Japan, thumbing your way around the US or travelling through one of the other countries on this list, each pick is essential reading.
If you don’t know about Blloon, it’s like the Netflix for books: a subscription-based portal that gives you access to a huge library of great literature on the go. But what really sets it apart are its insightful curated lists, that range from ‘Not Reading White Men’ and ‘The Contemporary Arabic Novel’, to ‘Good Sex/Bad Sex: Naughty! Quality erotica & infamously bad sex scenes.’
Here are Tara Jane and Sarah with a literary world-tour that’ll take you from Nigeria to Naples and the outer reaches of the galaxy.
JAPAN: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Delve into sixteen-year-old Nao’s diary and visit downtown Tokyo, Zen Buddhism via Sendai, and modern Japanese culture through her eyes. Hold on tight as you are catapulted between past, future and present. A prevalent theme in Ruth Ozeki’s fourth title is time (as well as environment, family, Zen meditation and bullying), so you might find yourself asking where you are at points throughout the book. Stay on the journey with Nao as she seeks to discover herself and you may end up seeking answers to questions you never thought about asking. Bonus! Footnotes throughout teach you handy Japanese phrases. How shibui (渋い)– cool, chic.
NIGERIA: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Named after the flag for the Republic of Biafra, the former secessionist Igbo state in Nigeria, Half of A Yellow Sun weaves together the lives of five extraordinary characters in the years preceding, and during the Biafran war. A brutal war that received international coverage, in a country that attracts international opinion but remains intimately known by few. Chimamanda’s powerful, beautiful and epic account of this decade in modern African history leaves you with a new sense of understanding. Note: this is definitely a read-the-book-before-seeing-the-film scenario.
USA: On The Road by Jack Kerouac
If you didn’t read Jack Kerouac’s pioneering novel whilst you were coming-of-age and you have a penchant for American culture – now is the time. Hold out your thumb and get taken on a ride deep into the aesthetic, literary, musical and drug highs of early ’50s America against a hitchhiking backdrop of the beginning of the Beats movement, sexual revolution and *starts singing* “the land of the free”.
FRANCE: The Way by Swann’s by Marcel Proust
If you’re jetting off to France this summer and have never dabbled in Marcel Proust’s six-volume modern masterpiece A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, now’s the time. DON’T PANIC. Start small. Take the first volume The Way by Swann’s — published by Penguin Classics in a divine translation by Lydia Davis — and fall into Proust’s world of Siena marble, country garden walks, warm smoky air, lime blossoms, knotted lavalière bowties, Parisian theatre parties, and vases smashed in fits of passion. Soak it all up like a madeline would a cup of tea.
ITALY: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Who is Elena Ferrante? The mysterious Italian author who despite efforts to shy away from fame has garnered nothing but, thanks to her brilliant prose style. Start with the first book in her Neapolitan trilogy My Brilliant Friend. The story begins with a phone call reporting a missing woman and unfolds as the narrator pieces together the details of the missing woman’s life infused with the sights, sounds and characters of Naples. Unputdownable. How do you say that in Italian?
IRELAND: Young Skins by Colin Barrett
“My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk.” So starts Colin Barrett’s book of short stories set in a nameless Irish locale. With sharply-drawn characters and coruscating dialogue, Barrett drops you into the dark corporeality of contemporary Ireland with mugs of tea, tipsy heady teenagers and extreme violence to boot. A phenomenal trip; we dare you to look away.
INTERGALACTIC TRAVEL: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam
Calling Earthlings! The written word knows no bounds. Set off on an intergalactic jaunt with Douglas Adam’s hilarious, rollicking space adventure. Chock full of laughs and vital travel tips… Do YOU know where your towel is?
DESTINATION UNKNOWN: Reading the World by Ann Morgan
Looking for a round-the-world ticket? Look no further than Reading the World by intrepid book explorer Ann Morgan. After coming to the realisation that she was, in her own words, a “literary xenophobe”, she spent 12 months exploring stories from every country in the world. A spin-off from her blog, Morgan’s book starts as a love letter to the Cambridge University library and tackles issues like literature in translation and censorship. A great starting point as you head off on your next great reading adventure. Buen viaje!
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