Every year on September 8th, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates International Literacy Day to raise awareness of the importance of literacy for the entire global community. One of the joys of reading is that it allows us to experience and learn about places we might otherwise never visit. This year, broaden your personal viewpoint, and experience other cultures by reading one of these fifteen books to fuel your wanderlust.
1. ‘The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty’ (2015)
By: Vendela Vida
This isn’t the romantic Casablanca you saw in the movies. As the main character is checking into her hotel, after traveling abroad alone, her bag and personal belongings are stolen. The police return a bag to her, but it belongs to someone else. She decides to keep it, however, and take on the identity of the passport and ID cards inside. Isn’t that one of the perks of traveling? You can be anyone you want to be.
2. ‘Mr. Norris Changes Trains’ (1935)
By: Christopher Isherwood
It’s 1930s Berlin, and our two main characters have an impromptu meeting on a train. Neither are what they initially seem, though. Shady dealings, false statements, and false identities aren’t the usual beginnings of a friendship. But, then again, the rise of Fascism isn’t a simple time.
3. ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (2006)
By: Elizabeth Gilbert
If Eat, Pray, Love isn’t the thing you think of when it comes to books about travel, you must have missed out on 2006. For the uninitiated, the book’s author jets off around the world in the hopes of finding herself post a recent divorce. Is it an example of privileged living? Yes. Is it fun? Also yes. Make of that what you will.
4. ‘The Innocents Abroad’ (1869)
By: Mark Twain
You might think a book from the 1860s would be stuffy and boring, but that’s not the case with Mark Twain at the helm. Lampooning other travel literature that was popular at the time, Twain uses his trademark tongue-in-cheek critiques as he records his travel via boat through Europe and the Middle East.
5. ‘On the Road’ (1957)
By: Jack Kerouac
Taking inspiration from his real life, Kerouac crafted this piece of fiction based on his road trip adventures in the late 1940s. The novel was highly influential, particularly for the next book on our list, and remains the gold standard for its voice of boisterous youthful energy and capturing that zeitgeist of twentysomethings during this time in U.S.
6. ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1971)
By: Hunter S. Thompson
Fifteen years after Jack Kerouac’s road trips, Hunter S. Thompson embarked on his own, granted a bit more drug-induced than his predecessor. As often follows when on numerous drugs, the narrators become philosophical and ruminate on the changes in society, particularly how they see 1960s counterculture as having failed.
7. ‘The Geography of Bliss’ (2008)
By: Eric Weiner
NPR journalist Eric Weiner is a self-deemed grump who sets out to understand what makes Switzerland’s, Bhutan’s, Qatar’s, and other countries’ populations some of the happiest in the world. Can you measure happiness? Do they not have any problems, or do they just not think about them? Hopefully this book will help you keep that smile on your face long after summer has passed.
8. ‘Americanah’ (2013)
By: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
At its core, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a love story. The novel follows Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians (and former sweethearts) whose paths cross again after years of separation. Through the protagonists’ eyes, the reader gets a realistic look at two different immigrant experiences. Ifemelu must overcome financial struggles and racism all while obtaining an education. Obinze, who is denied an American visa, lives in London illegally before returning to make his fortune in a democratized Nigeria. Adichie’s commentary on the social and political environments of America, Britain, and Nigeria shine through the endearing narratives of the two old flames.
9. ‘Open City’ (2012)
By: Teju Cole
Cole takes inspiration from his own life to craft a new take on the road trip story favored of some books on our list. In Open City, a Nigerian grad student studying in New York takes some time to wander the streets of New York. Can you purposefully wander aimlessly? Regardless, the narrator’s internal dialogue as he sees new parts of the city and meets interesting people is enlightening for native New Yorkers and visitors alike.
10. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (1934)
By: Agatha Christie
Christie is the queen of mystery, and this well-plotted whodunit, featuring recurring character Hercule Poirot, is one of her best known. Taking place on the historic rail line during its heyday, Murder creates the perfect drama by having all the action take place on a single, tight railcar. What better way to relax at the beach than reading about the “perfect murder”?
11. ‘Wild’ (2012)
By: Cheryl Strayed
Recently adapted in a film starring Reese Witherspoon, this memoir recounts Strayed’s days hiking through California, Oregon, and Washington on a 94-day journey. Along the 1,100 miles she backpacked, the narrator comes to terms with the recent events of her divorce, her mother’s death, and her own drug abuse. Think of it as similar to Eat, Pray, Love but more Walk, Hike, Climb.
12. ‘The Lowland’ (2013)
By: Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lowland is Lahiri writing at her best. Much of her work focuses on immigrant experiences and reconciling the pull of two different cultures, and similar themes are on display here. The plot focuses on two Indian brothers: one who moves to America, the other who becomes involved in the Maoist moment and stays in India.
13. ‘Kindred’ (1979)
By: Octavia Butler
Another book about slavery? I’ve read that before, you say. Trust us; Butler brings something new to the table with this novel about a woman from 1976 who finds herself transported back to an antebellum plantation where she meets her ancestors. Part sci-fi, part historical fiction, all parts awesome.
14. ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ (1974)
By: Robert M. Pirsig
This road trip adventure, taken on motorcycles, gets surprisingly deep surprisingly fast. Much of the book’s focus is on highly complex philosophical questions, but they are offered up in accessible ways. Pirsig ponders “romantic” versus “rational” approaches to life in this father-son tale about essential truths and self-actualization.
15. ‘Persepolis’ (2000)
By: Marjane Satrapi
Published in two parts, Persepolis follows a young Iranian woman who grows up during the beginnings of the Islamic Revolution, leaves for Europe to attend university, and returns to a more conservative Tehran 4 years later. This sounds like heavy stuff, and it sometimes is, but the comic book style highlights the humor and touching moments in the author’s stories while giving a unique and different insight into a country about which most Americans have preconceived notions.