Many places have spectacular libraries, sometimes more beautiful and attractive than the documents they store. Others do not count on that beauty but we still consider them safe places, that treasure the knowledge you desire, develop the imagination you thought waned lethargic or they provide you with hours of uninterrupted pleasure. You can travel to libraries or libraries can make you travel.
To open a book means to open oneself to other cultures, ideas and thoughts. Sometimes, that act takes us to new worlds and unconsciously nurtures our desire to travel in a healthy way to physically change our atmosphere. In a manner of speaking, it could be said that libraries are great traveler factories. And, to choose a trip one must definitely go to the library. The trip is always tied to literature. There is always someone with the desire to travel, among them some with the desire to tell the story and there some willing to listen.
How many trips have been spurred by a book? Every day there are more travelers who take on a trip to visit the places in which their favorite authors lived or developed the plots of their fetished novels. It is not something novel to our period.
In 1890, Nellie Bly followed Phileas Fogg’s steps to prove she could travel around the world in eighty days. In 1905, Azorin travelled Alonso Quijano’s route on foot. Federico Garcia Lorca on tour with the Barraca through Galician lands, visited the home in which Rosalia Castro died in Padron.
James Bond enthusiasts who visit London finish their nights at the mythic Dukes Bar, where Ian Fleming coined the famous “shaken not stirred”; or in the summer, the tranquil Ystad, Switzerland municipality which is filled with Henning Mankell admirers looking for Kurt Wallander in the corners.
However, not all of us have favorite authors or novels and we need a little push to move us from the couch or to sit in it with a cup of tea. What if we curl the curl? What if we not only visit a library, but go to the travel section?
Initially it may seem like a daunting or titanic task. There are as many books to read as there are trips to take. What time period? What continent? How to travel? What do we dedicate or focus our attention on? For these reasons, I have selected a series of works defined by the experts as essential for travel literature.
- Letters from Istanbul, Mary Wortley Montagu, 1763: a rebellious modern woman with a life so scandalous that her daughter tried to impede the publication of the work, narrates her life in Istanbul through letters sent to family members and friends.
- Guide for Innocent Travelers, Mark Twain, 1869: recounts the trip the writer took to New York to Holy Land, before he was well known, in one of the first cruises. It is irreverent, entertaining, sarcastic, and leaves all puppets headless. A year filled with adventures and apprenticeships.
- The Protective Sky, Paul Bowles, 1949: it is not a proper travel book, but it is oriented to one of the places that most impacted the writer, it recreates the dessert atmosphere of the Sahara like few others and calls for being a traveler and not a tourist.
- On the Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957: the ‘beat’ generation bible. Roads, jazz, poetry, youth and craziness. Who gives more?
- Venice, Jan Morris, 1960: an exceptional woman describes the city, admired by many, with exquisite prose. It evokes something no longer to be found.
- Five Journeys from Hell, Martha Gellhorn, 1978: a war correspondent, witness to a great part of the bellicose conflicts of the twentieth century (until the 1980’s), describes her best and worst trips. Someone who thought of nothing more than survival in terms of self-esteem and who’s next destination could be worse than the one before, could never be boring.
- The Shortest Path, Manuel Leguineche, 1979: a young journalist who would reach mythical status takes a trip around the world lasting two years. According to Eric Gonzalez, it is the book that every young journalist should read. It is a classic of Spanish travel literature that was de-catalogued for many years. Enjoy this book now that it is available.
- In the Antipodes, Bill Bryson, 2000: ingenious, cultured, amusing, with a fine and subtle humor that provokes laughter (a suggestion: don’t read it on public transport), Bill Bryson, while presenting Australia as the place with the most dangerous animals on earth, manages to get you to want to visit the country and stay.
- Travels with Herodotus, Ryszard Kapuściński, 2004: this homage to the Greek historian, who was a constant companion throughout the writer’s life, serves to identify one of the most important qualities of a great traveler: to know how to look. They are two trips, two authors and two different ages; ‘the past’ and Ryszard’s past. We learn, we are amazed and we discover the author’s methods as a journalist and a traveler.
- The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux, 2011: the authors reflects or reviews other observations on travel. It is a compendium of anecdotes, advice, philosophic reflections and extracts from works by authors that influenced his development as a travelling reader. Wise, no ironic and tremendously observant.
Travels and literature do not fail to be manifestations of a curious spirit and of the pleasure of knowledge. Each book is a destiny and each trip is an exploration or vice versa. The important thing is to not remain in the dark. Travel, it makes no difference whether it is on foot or with the imagination, oneself or through others, but always with an open mind.
I’ll leave you to your travels. Perhaps we’ll meet in a library or searching for Calisto and Melibea’s Garden in Salamanca, Spain.
Inma Herrero is a librarian, maker, voracious reader, inveterately curious and a blogger in BiblogTecarios. She tries to learn something new every day and loves challenges. Her areas of interest grow because there is nothing she enjoys more than that world that she inhabits.