At the time I’m writing this post, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all homebound and many of us have had to postpone long-planned trips with great disappointment. Before we can travel again, we have to find ways to satiate our wanderlust while staying in our homes – and the answer, my friends, is through books, TV shows, and movies. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be rounding up some of my favorites in all three categories that help inspire travel. To kick it off, please check out the list below of my favorite novels, historical fiction works and memoirs that can transport you to another place.
1 – The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – I first stumbled upon Kristin Hannah when her historical fiction novel set in WW2, The Nightingale, became immensely popular. Her next work, The Great Alone, follows a young girl coming of age in the wilderness of Alaska. Kristin is the type of writer who has the ability to craft a story that slowly works its way into your soul until you feel as if you know the characters personally. And in today’s difficult times, a story about survival and perseverance is particularly poignant.
2 – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – I fell in love with this book when it came out in 2017. Min Jin Lee’s saga guides us through the lives of four generations of a Korean family living in Japan. Though the account is at times difficult, Lee’s writing will take you on a journey back in time through Asia.
3 – Into thin Air by John Krakauer – Despite having zero mountain climbing experience and absolutely no desire to scale Everest myself, I still have an indescribable allure to the mountain. John Krakauer recounts the events of the 1996 Everest disaster in his book, Into Thin Air, which was adapted into the movie Everest. While I enjoyed the movie, I love the detail in Krakauer’s book. I may never make it to Everest myself, but Krakauer made me feel as if I was standing at the top of the Khumbu ice fall right there with him.
4 – Hawaii by James Michener – Anyone familiar with Michener knows that his books are a commitment. With over 900 pages, this novel, first published in 1959 (the same year Hawaii became a US state), is indeed a saga. But if you’re planning to visit Hawai’i after this pandemic ends, why not get a jumpstart on your research? Michener’s novel is a beautiful story incorporating both historical facts about the formation and development of the Hawaiian islands, as well as the folklore and traditions of the native people.
5 – Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie – OK so clearly I have a thing for history and historical fiction… but if you’re a fellow Russophile, you’ll be fascinated to learn about the life of one of Russia’s most famous leaders, Catherine the Great. Massie’s account is incredibly researched and historically accurate, but reads like a page-turner and you won’t want to put it down.
6 – Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink by Jane Goodall – Many people don’t know this, but Jane Goodall is my biggest hero. Her independence, confidence and the barriers she broke as a woman in a male-dominated field are incredibly inspiring. Today, she is a world-renowned conservationist, a non-profit leader and an incredible writer. I’ve loved all of her books, but this one from 2009 is particularly uplifting (something we all need right now!). It tells a variety of stories about conservation efforts around the world and how endangered animals are coming back from the brink. If you’re a wildlife lover and missing nature right now, this is a great read.
7 – Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor – You’ll know Sue Monk Kidd from her standout novel – The Secret Life of Bees. Traveling with Pomegranates is a totally different type of book, but still excellently written. This memoir of Sue’s travels through Greece and France with her daughter, Ann, documents each woman’s path to self-discovery through travel.
8 – New York by Edward Rutherford – Rutherford, like Michener, is known for his deep-dive sagas. His historical fiction account of New York City is just phenomenal – weaving together families in the city from the time it began as an Indian fishing village, through to the events of 9/11. With New York the center of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, this story can serve as a reminder of how NYC has persevered through time, and the magic you’ll find on its historic streets when they’re open for our return.
9 – Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – So many fabulous novels can transport us to Africa – from the safari to the cities. I loved McLain’s Circling the Sun which is set in Kenya during the British governance of the 1920s.
10 – A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle – While not quite a year, I did spend a summer in Provence in the south of France during college. We visited quaint chateaux in the countryside surrounded by lavender fields, shopped at the local farmer’s markets and drank rose in the warm evenings (long before it was trendy!). Mayle’s memoir will have you packing your bags for a villa in France as soon as we’re able.
I also did a little informal poll on Instagram for other favorite travel books, check out the list below for some recommendations from other ATLAS + VALISE followers:
- Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
- In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
- A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
Happy reading! And if you have any other suggestions, please comment below!