Books That Make Me Want to Explore
Sure, you can learn a lot reading nonfiction, but don’t discount what you can learn from reading a novel. With fiction you can discover cultures, “live though” a historic event or delve into a far-away locale.
When I read Alvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death I got the urge to explore the world he describes so vividly in his novel. Not every novel can do that, so I compiled a list of books that might inspire you to travel.
Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue
This book is odd. Caravaggio is playing tennis with a poet and they are using a tennis ball made from the hair of Anne Boleyn’s severed head. (I said it was odd). The thing is, you learn so much about the history of tennis (monks developed the game in the 12th century), about the art market in 16th century Rome, about Cortés’s Mexico invasion, and tons of other tidbits. I finished the book and suddenly wanted to see every painting by Caravaggio, learn how to play 16th century tennis (the game was much different), travel to Lake Patzcuaro in Mexico and go on a pilgrimage to see the light dance off of the feather works of the Huanitzin miters.
Kirstin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
If you read through the Nobel laureates list like I’m doing, you’ll read a lot of Scandinavian literature (which is not a bad thing!). There is something about the Scandinavian’s complete acceptance of trolls, fairies and other magical creatures living in forests that really entices the child in me. You can’t blame them—Norway, for example, just looks magical. Of course there’s room for fantastic reality. Undset is no exception. In Kirstin Lavransdatter it’s presented as completely normal that Kirstin meets a wood elf in the forest. Honestly that alone is enough to make me want to frolic through Scandinavian forests in search of mythical beings.
Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric
The story is about a small (and what may seem like inconsequential) bridge over the River Drina. Andric chronicles five centuries of Bosnian history by centering it around this one bridge. After finishing the book I felt like I received a thorough history lesson of the Balkans and the Ottoman empire, but even more than that I wanted to be on that bridge, drinking coffee with the locals. I’ve only traveled to the Balkans twice, Zagreb and Greece, but after this book I want to explore the peninsula more thoroughly. Andric is a Nobel laureate for a reason.
Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe
This is the second book I’ve read by Oe, and he keeps getting weirder. But not in a bad way. One thing I never really thought a lot about was how the Japanese who lived through WWII were affected by the empire worship, the war and life after it. Oe gives us a glimpse of that in this semi-autobiographical book—the story of an aging novelist and his adult son with a developmental disability moving from the city (Tokyo) to the “forest” where the novelist grew up. I was captivated by the beauty of this book, like the euphemism of “going up into the forest” meaning to prepare for one’s death. It made me want to explore Japan and experience the culture firsthand. Oe also is a Nobel laureate.
What novels have made you want to explore the world?