Daily Arts Recommendations: Books for your spring break suitcase

Monday, February 19, 2018 - 2:37pm

“In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.” - Anna Quindlen

It’s the end of February, spring break is looming and all I want to do is get out of Michigan. Whenever I’m struck by a case of wanderlust, the cause and the cure are usually the same: books. So, in honor of spring break, here is a list of books that will both get you itching to travel and allow you to do so from the comfort of your own home. Accompanying each book is a song to listen to while reading — something that will set the mood for the specific type of adventure the author is describing.

1.“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert / “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

The first time I read “Eat, Pray, Love” was on a family road trip to Maine. I was 13, so obviously a family vacation was the last thing I wanted to do. Like, Mom  I can’t believe you made me skip Sam Zipin’s bat mitzvah for this. In a huff, I ended up reading “Eat, Pray, Love” twice over the course of that trip. Liz became my guide on a journey I hadn’t even known I wanted to take. She’s not fearless — instead, she is unafraid of her own fear. Her descriptions of traveling alone make the adult world seem exciting rather than scary, which was exactly the kind of escapism I needed as a nervous middle-schooler (and also the kind I need right now). Gilbert’s eloquent rendering of Italy is enough to make any snow-sorry Michigander sigh: “Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to… nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite fountain? And then to do it again the next day?” I dare you to read this book and not want to go on a year-long solo adventure of self-discovery (and also somehow to feel as though you already have).

2. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho / “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” by Simon & Garfunkel

I’ll be honest: My inaugural experience with this book was in my eighth-grade English class, and I definitely Spark-noted some of it (sorry, Mrs. P). I reread it last year, and it’s so good. Coelho is a master storyteller. His tale takes the reader on a literal and metaphorical journey with Santiago, the young Andalusian shepherd who is searching for meaning in the fantastical, mirage-filled Egyptian desert. Coelho’s language is awe-inspiring and almost spiritual: “We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” It’s hard to finish this book without feeling like you carry with you a new trove of secrets about the nature of the universe.

3. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac / “Tangled Up in Blue” by Bob Dylan

I know this is cliché. I know, I know. Still, it’s hard to deny how beautifully ambitious, heady and breathlessly raucous “On the Road” is. Kerouac clearly articulates a youthful, bohemian longing for freedom: “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars. Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Kerouac is particularly popular among angsty college students, and I get why — he’s kind of a hipster, and so are his characters. The endless cigarettes, the messy hair, the moody nights spent drinking black coffee and writing poetry — can’t you imagine Timothée Chalamet playing Sal Paradise? There’s also something bittersweet about reading “On the Road” in 2018: Kerouac’s beatnik America is a place we cannot travel to outside of books and poetry. We’re lucky, then, that Kerouac is such a skilled tour guide, a fanatic host who, like us, is “desirous of everything at the same time.”

4. “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson / “Down Under” by Men at Work

I came away from this travelogue with two things. The first is that I want Bill Bryson to narrate my life. The second is that Australia seems like the most incredible, strange and beautiful place on Earth. Australia, Bryson says, “is at once staggeringly empty and yet packed with stuff. Interesting stuff, ancient stuff, stuff not readily explained. Stuff yet to be found.” It is so delightful to hear Bryson discuss all this stuff! Like Agatha Christie’s classic “Murder on the Orient Express,” a large part of the narrative of “In a Sunburned Country” takes place on a cross-continental train trip. Rather than murder, however, this trip is dominated by Bryson’s boundless curiosity and his extensive, detailed recollections of his own bumbling American ways. Bryson is uniquely talented at injecting humor into nearly every meandering tangent and anecdote about Australian history, and the experience of reading is one of complete immersion into a richly textured and singularly bizarre country.