I love looking at a book as a simple object. Nothing but pages, letters, and ink, and numbers marking an abstract progression. And suddenly, seconds later, the meaningless paper and ink are making you cry, or laugh, think or dream. It’s one of my favorite phenomenons – one I still smile at no matter how many new books I read.
Literature has long been used as a mechanism to travel to distant lands and times – but to travel to where your novel takes place? That’s an extraordinary feeling. When you look up from your book, and it becomes pages and ink once more, you can explore the side streets, pubs, cliff sides, or desert paths you’ve just explored with the book’s characters.
Considering my upcoming adventures, I’ve been trying to decide on which books I’ll bring abroad with me. After all, Scotland deserves a fantastic novel (or three).
Given my struggles, I thought I’d put together this little list for you, in case you too are unsure of which books to read while traveling. While I’ve traveled around a bit more than this list reveals, these particular places correspond to books that resonate with me – and hopefully you as well.
From fiction to non-fiction, classic to contemporary, I have a wide array of favorites, and have attempted to keep the list as varied as my personal bookshelf. Enjoy!
And if you do happen to have a suggestion for my Scotland adventures, I’d love to hear it!
Letters from the Lost Generation: Gerald and Sara Murphy and Friends
As the title suggests, this book is actually a compilation of letters written from 1920-1960’s, revealing the complicated lives of Gerald and Sara Murphy, who largely supported authors Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Parker, and their illustrious contemporaries. Their letters reveal more emotion – and the poignancy behind what goes unsaid – than any book ever could.
Les Miserables (Signet Classics)
Author: Victor Hugo
I loved English literature so much I studied it in college, but if I’m entirely honest, I still cannot read more than 30 pages of this book in one sitting. However, I loved picking up Les Miserables from time to time and disappearing into one of Victor Hugo’s philosophical passages whilst sitting along the banks of the Seine – reading history, knowing I sat among thousands of years of history.
Bonus: My favorite movie set in Paris is Before Sunset (followed by Midnight in Paris). And if I’m being 100% honest, my favorite Parisian book may actually still be the children’s book Madeline; with my recent appendix issues, I can relate all too well.
2. French countryside:
Genre: Fiction (historical)
Author: Kate Mosse
While on an archeological dig near the ancient French city of Carcassonne, Alice tumbles into a cave, and discovers the pattern of a labyrinth and two crumbling skeletons. In the following days, she’s bombarded with visions of the past – 800 years earlier, a young woman Alais is told to safely guard a ring and mysterious book, which supposedly contains the secret of the holy grail. The book straddles these two time periods, and as each mystery is solved, five more unravel.
PS, I Love You
Author: Cecelia Ahern
I first discovered Cecelia Ahern on a long flight from Glasgow to Chicago. Although I may have been fairly young, and find the writing rather youthful at times now, I still love the story. P.S. I Love You is a beautiful story of loss and hope, filled with developed, interesting characters, set in a wonderful place. Perfect for a long plane ride or relaxing vacation.
Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle (Tristan and Isolde Novels, Book 1)
Genre: Fiction (historical)
Author: Rosalind Miles
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been utterly fascinated with the Arthurian legends. Over the years, I’ve read my fair share of tales describing the magnetism between Lancelot and Guinevere, the mystery of Morgan le Fay, and, of course, the ill-fated story of Isolde and her lover, Tristan. By far, I found this series one of the most beautiful retellings of a legendary time, and love.
I love these recommendations but I’m looking for some new material for my next trip!
Author: Dianna Gabalden
But of course, our favorite kilt-donning Scotsmen must be featured here. While I’m not as fond of Gabalden’s later work, her first few novels set in Scotland capture the essence of the culture, and tell an extraordinarily compelling story about Claire, a WWII nurse, who falls through time and winds up in love with Jamie Fraser, an 18th century Scotsman.
Blog: The Traveling Savage
Author: Keith Savage
A blogger after my heart, Keith travels and writes about the intriguing, fascinating Scottish culture. If you don’t want to delve into a full book, travel blogs can transport you to far off lands as well.
The White Queen (The Cousins’ War)
Genre: Fiction (historical)
Author: Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory transports you to the infamous War of the Roses, complete with all the betrayal, drama, witchcraft, passion, and intrigue you can expect from this devastating time period. Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford and protagonist of The Lady of the Rivers, and mother of the White Queen, remains one of my favorite female historical characters to date.
Author: David Nicholls
To temper the historical fiction obsession, I’d suggest One Day, a bittersweet novel set in contemporary London. The movie didn’t live up to my expectations, but I quite enjoyed the unconventional love story that runs the length of 20 years.
Blog: A Lady in London
Author: The Lady
A myriad of London blogs seem to exist, and I’ve been researching how to differentiate myself for when I move there in August. After hours of perusing, this particular blog kept popping up in my Google searches; once I began reading, I was hooked.
London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets
Author: Peter Ackroyed
“Tread carefully over the pavements of London for you are treading on skin, a skein of stone that covers rivers and labyrinths, tunnels and chambers, streams and caverns, pipes and cables, springs and passages, crypts and sewers, creeping things that will never see the light of day.”
6. English countryside:
As it turns out, I read a lot of books set in England.
Atonement: A Novel
Author: Ian McEwan
I originally read this book for class. Somehow, I finished the entire novel in one night, forgoing social plans and timely obligations in favor of curling up with Atonement, a “symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness.”
The Forgotten Garden: A Novel
Author: Kate Morton
A young girl, Nell, arrives in Australia with nothing but a suitcase and beautiful book of fairy tales. Once she is taken in by a kind family, Nell begins to believe she grew up in this Australian port, only to uncover the truth on her 21st birthday. From here, generations of family secrets ensnare and unravel. The novel follows Nell, her granddaughter, and The Authoress. All three characters are linked by the desire to uncover the truth about their origins, as well as their shared fascination with fairy tales as dark and twisted as the original Grimm stories.
Sense and Sensibility (Collins Classics)
Author: Jane Austen
Nearly everyone opts for Pride and Prejudice as their introduction to Austen’s daunting collection. Personally, I enjoy the intriguing discourse between “sense” and “sensibility,” and the characters who embody these afflictions. A humorous commentary on societal conventions characterize Austen’s writing, and I found this particular story more interesting and insightful than Pride and Prejudice (although I do, admittedly, prefer the movie version of Pride and prejudice over Sense and Sensibility).
7. Northern Wales:
Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes Trilogy)
Genre: Fiction (historical)
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
No questions, no hesitations, Here Be Dragons is one of my all time favorite novels. I hiked a mountain because of it. Penman has crafted one of the most beautiful, complex, fascinating historical fiction novels I’ve ever come across. The story begins with King Henry II, and then transitions to Richard the Lionheart. When Richard dies, King John ascends to the throne, and eventually marries his illegitimate daughter Joanna to the Welsh Prince, Llewelyn Farr. Joanna then must navigate her marriage, torn between the love of her father, who’s set upon conquering Wales, and her husband – the Welsh Prince determined to finally unite his country against the mighty English empire.
8. Southern Wales:
The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession
Author: Charlie Lovett
I came across this book after visiting Hay-on-Wye, Wales, which you can read all about here!
Hopefully you’ve found at least one new addition to your bookshelf. Let me know if you have any questions!