“Short stories are tiny windows to other worlds and other minds and dreams. These are trips you can take to the other side of the universe while still being back in time for dinner, ”famed author Neil Gaiman once wrote in M is for magic, his collection of poems and tales.
Indeed, stories – and books in general – can help us explore the world from the comfort of our own homes. Through vivid descriptions of distant lands and diverse cultures, the books transport us to places we’ve never been and might even help us relive fond memories of past travels.
A fantastically written book about someone’s journey, whether it’s up a majestic mountain or through a romantic town, often prompts us to pack our bags and retrace the footsteps of the characters we read. And, exploration doesn’t just mean discovering what is out there now; it is also rediscovering what was there.
From fictional adventures to memories based on personal experiences, here are some classic books that will take you on a journey around the world, from your couch.
9 classic books that will take you around the world –
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Written by French author Jules Verne in 1873, the novel is considered one of the most beautiful adventure stories ever told. The story follows a wealthy Phileas Fogg in late 19th-century England, who accepts the gamble of traveling the world in 80 days. The quick tale takes us along Fogg’s journey as he leaves London and travels through Egypt, India (where he finds love), Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States before to go home. Helped by his faithful valet de chambre, the Frenchman Jean Passepartout, Fogg takes everything from a boat to an elephant, and faces obstacles like the winds of the Atlantic hurricane.
The book’s phenomenal success led to its adaptation in film, television, theater, literature, and even video games. Released in 1956, Around the world in 80 days won the Oscar for Best Picture, while the 2014 Video Game 80 days was nominated for four BAFTA awards. Some travel and vacation rental companies like Airbnb even offer itineraries inspired by this book. A few famous personalities, including journalist Nellie Bly and actor Michael Palin, have retraced the fictitious journey in real life. Danish actor Palle Huld took a similar journey as a teenager in 1928 and is said to have inspired The Adventures of Tintin designer Hergé to create his main character.
The inspiring book by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is about Santiago, a young shepherd from the Andalusia region of Spain, who one day dreams of a hidden treasure. He is then inspired to travel through the Sahara desert to the pyramids of Egypt, where, according to his dream, the treasure is located. Along the way, the boy is robbed, works for a crystal merchant, travels with an Englishman, falls in love with an Arab girl and finally meets a wise alchemist who shares a lesson in life with him. Throughout the book, the recurring theme of the search for one’s destiny plays with the allegorical decorations, the characters and the words. The success of the book was such that Coelho set a Guinness World Record by signing most translations of a single title in one sitting in 2003.
In this 2009 non-fiction book, American writer David Grann attempts to trace the route taken by British explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett in his final quest to find a lost civilization, which he called Z, at most deep in the Amazon jungle. Fawcett disappeared during the mission in 1925, along with his best friend Raleigh Rimmell and his 21-year-old son Jack. There have been a number of reports and theories as to what may have happened to them.
Indeed, Peter Fleming, older brother of the creator of James Bond Ian Fleming, undertook in 1932 a journey through the Amazon in an attempt to solve the same mystery, but in vain. (His 1933 book, Brazilian adventure, is about the mission.) Grann merges geography, history, science and travelogue into one gripping tale that has been hailed by literary critics. The book was made into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 2016.
Kim is essentially a spy story that takes place during the Great Game – a political standoff between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Great Britain for control of Central Asia – at the end of the 19th century. Yet Kipling not only manages to delight readers with the thrills associated with espionage, but also presents a vivid description of life in the Indian subcontinent. It highlights the unique geographies, histories and cultures of various places, and how to navigate them defines the protagonist’s gaze as he grows up.
A regular on any list of the greatest classic books, Kim first appeared in book form in 1901 after being serially published by two magazines.
Nobel laureate Hemingway is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, and not without reason. His ability to imprint city lanes, vibrant societies, and character quirks on the minds of readers through written words is unparalleled. It is this quality that makes his memories, A mobile party, to be read as a guide to Paris in the 1920s.
Published in 1964, three years after his death, this non-fiction novel is a sketch of Hemingway’s life as a young man in the French capital. It chronicles his marriage to his first wife Hadley Richardson and his interactions with some of the greatest figures of the time such as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. What is remarkable is that many of the restaurants, cafes and bars he frequented then can still be found at the addresses he wrote about in the book.
The book follows orphan Heidi, who is in the care of her lonely grandfather living in a village in the Alps. Hated by many for his cantankerous demeanor, the old man finds himself transformed by the innocence and lively approach to his granddaughter’s life.
Few stories set in picturesque Switzerland have had such a profound impact on the country’s tourism as this two-volume children’s book published between 1880 and 1881. Heidiland – a region between Lake Walen and Sarganser Land in eastern Switzerland – is named after the main character. The region has both ski resorts and summer slopes through lush green countryside.
Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland, is as much a protagonist as the characters in the 15 short stories in the book. Published in 1914, Dubliners talks about various middle-class figures who live in the city trapped by Irish nationalism in the early 20th century. Interestingly, although the city was as urban as any other European city at the time, it was not cosmopolitan. Dubliners reflects this in its pages. The stories in the book have been adapted for television, theater and screen, including a Tony Award-winning musical in 2000 based on his latest story, The dead.
Writing for the New York Times in 1957, Gilbert Millstein rightly pointed out that On the road will be known as the testament of the “Beat Generation”, a social and literary movement born in the United States in the 1950s and whose followers broke with conventional societal norms. The novel is indeed considered a landmark work in the annals of the post-WWII Beat and Counterculture generations.
Set in the United States from 1947 to 1950, the characters in the novel are the replacements for actual figures of the Beat movement such as Neal Cassady, Alan Ansen and William S. Burroughs Sr. Divided into five parts, the book takes the reader through the protagonist Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac himself) travels with his carefree friend Dean Moriarty (based on Cassady) – from the east coast to the west coast of the country. The characters give us a glimpse of the then United States while searching for a limitless life marked by jazz music, drugs, sex and mysticism.
Kerouac typed On the road in parchment form in 1951 and revised it several times before its publication in 1957. A film adaptation of the book was released in 2012.
After escaping from a British internment camp in India during World War II in 1944, along with three of his comrades, Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer reached Tibet where he spent seven years and became guardian of the 14th Dalai Lama. The book recounts his experiences from the daring escape from the camp to his stay in Tibet. In addition to his interactions with the Dalai Lama, Harrer faithfully offers a close look at the culture, society and religion of the Tibetan people.
The memoirs are known to offer the last glimpse of Tibet before the 1950 Chinese invasion. Thus, upon Harrer’s death in 2006, the Dalai Lama noted in a condolence message that the mountaineer “had the unique opportunity to experience life in Tibet for seven long years before Tibet lost its freedom.
The 1997 film adaptation of the same name starred Brad Pitt as Harrer.