Five Books That Will Take You Places

A south rim Grand Canyon sunrise taken from Navajo Point. Copyright Julia A. Seymour

I’m not a homebody. I love traveling, but not right now. Like many others, I’m at home due to the COVID crisis.  At least I’m surrounded with photographs and trinkets from my travels.

There are photographs I took of Paris’s Notre Dame and Bruges’s canals hanging above my bed. From a trip to Seattle, I have a stunning wood block photo of a starry night in Oregon. I bought it after talking awhile with photographer Travis Styler at Pike’s Place Market about top photography spots in the area. I even have a 6 inch tall high wheel bike made out of wire, from a man named Jean I only met because of a rain shower in Montreal.

All of these items make me smile and reminisce, but at the moment I’m only “traveling”  through books. Between audiobooks, my Kindle and physical books (which I tend to purchase more of with every trip), I read somewhere between 30 and 50 books a year. This includes a variety of fiction as well as narrative non-fiction, history, biography, and books for professional development.

One thing I absolutely love are books that take me somewhere I’ve never been or teach me about a place I may or may not see for myself someday. Here are five books that did that for me:

1. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

If you find international geopolitics confusing you’re not alone. It can be a struggle to understand what’s going on in your own nation, much less why nations around the world make the choices they do, regarding alliances and conflict. In Prisoners of Geography, Tim Marshall says geography has a lot to do with it, and after finishing the audiobook (narrated by Scott Brick) this week, I now know what he means. I came away with a better understanding of why the U.S. became a superpower, why the Middle East is in perpetual conflict, why Russia annexed Crimea and the sources of perpetual tension between India and Pakistan. This book is an enjoyable and educational trip around the world examining geography’s role in conflict and conquest and I, for one, loved every minute of it.

2. Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon by Edward Dolnick

The Grand Canyon is majestic and a true sight to behold. It’s a place I’m longing to return to. But if you want to know more than what it looks like, discover it through the lens of the explorers who set off, down the dangerous Colorado River without any idea of what they would endure — or how many of them would not survive. Edward Dolnick’s book Down the Great Unknown relies on diaries and journals to put you in the wooden rowboats with the 10 men in this true, incredible story.

3. America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

In the novel America for Beginners you’ll travel across America, from New York to San Francisco, with a grieving Indian widow, a would-be actress and a Bangladeshi tour guide. It’s sweet and sad. I couldn’t stop listening.

4. Damnation Island by Stacy Horn

I could write an entire post on books about New York City, and someday I may. But today, I’ll confine things to Damnation Island. Although this book was a slow read for me, it was a good one. It exposed the dreadful truth of conditions endured by prisoners and paupers on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). Having wandered Roosevelt Island in recent years, and seen the remains of buildings used when it was an island solely for incarceration, I was itching to learn more. And Horn delivered.

5. Murder in Belleville or other Cara Black novels

One of my travel habits to stop in a bookstore to find a local author or books set wherever I’m visiting. I discovered Cara Black’s novels when I was in Paris. Since all of her crime novels are set in different Parisian neighborhoods, each one is not just a new mystery, but an immersion to a neighborhood and culture grounded in a specific place. I left the store with Murder in Belleville that day, but you can take your own pick.

What about you? What books have whisked you away to another city, country or continent? I’d love to know what they are.

In the meantime, bon voyage!


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