In the hands of great writers, storytelling elements like emotions, people and places come alive in the minds of their readers. While the first two can be crafted out of thin air, the latter is almost always based on real-world locations – even fictional ones. So much so, by the time we finish reading a particular book, we’ll be able to envision landscapes and population centers we’ve never set foot on with great clarity. At times, such books will awaken the dormant wanderlust spirit within and prompt us to make a trip to see these places up close. So if you have some vacation days to burn, check out these ten books with some of the most inspirational, beautiful, varied or memorable locations ever!
♦ Captains and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell (1972)
Captains and the Kings is an epic story of poverty, desperation, greed, the fledgling oil industry, politics, and ultimately, love. The extraordinary tale began when 13-year-old Irish immigrant Joseph Francis Xavier Armagh landed on the docks of New York in the early 1850s alongside his siblings, six-year-old brother Sean and infant sister, Mary Regina.
Armed only with a fierce determination and an indomitable will, the young man overcame great challenges in the seedy underbelly of New York and the oil fields of Titusville to become one of the most powerful men in the country. This gripping page-turner will take you back in time to 19th century New York, Pennsylvania and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. It will open your eyes to the struggles and desperation of the immigrant class, the persecution of the Irish people by the Sassenagh (English) and the growth of early America. After reading this book, we’re willing to bet that you’ll be spending hours, if not days, in deep melancholia as you comb through the places found inside the book.
♦ The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)
The dream of every traveler is to discover that one magical place that no one else knows – or at least, only a few. Alex Garland’s The Beach is centered on this very theme and tells the story of a backpacker who discovers a hidden, gloriously beautiful beach on an island in the Gulf of Thailand, just off the coast of Koh Samui. The dynamics of communal living and a love triangle fills up a major part of the book, which ultimately ends in tragedy. However, it doesn’t detract from the fact that on your next sojourn to Southeast Asia, you will be keeping an ear and an eye out for a similarly isolated paradise – preferably one without a cannabis farm guarded by armed men, we presume.
♦ Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
Long before he gained international fame for his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses (which led to several assassination attempts by Islamic militant organizations and the Iranian government), Salman Rushdie had already established himself as one of the best writers of the 1980s. His 1981 masterpiece, Midnight’s Children, a Booker Prize winner, is a beautifully constructed and complex fantasy built on real sociopolitical realities afflicting a newly-independent India. With a prose style reminiscent of the artful meanderings of William Faulkner, Rushdie regales his readers with a stylized romantic depiction of Bombay that will make them clamor to see the place that never existed outside of his imagination.
Note: Rushdie currently lives in an undisclosed location in New York, guarded around the clock by the FBI and private security. The bounty for his head has grown to almost $4 million.
♦ American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)
Neil Gaiman, one of the modern giants of the fantasy genre, weaved quasi-history and elements of Americana into his highly acclaimed 2001 book, American Gods. The story’s central premise lies in the survival of ancient gods, whose powers originate from the strength of their devotees’ beliefs. The protagonist of this hefty 600-odd-page book, an ex-convict named Shadow, explores the country as he sought to understand the reason behind the diminishing powers of these beings and the emergence of a new generation of gods. From Wyoming to Chicago, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington, you will never view the people and their beliefs and culture in quite the same way again.
♦ For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)
Hemingway is arguably the greatest English writer of the 20th century (sorry, Mr. Faulkner). Although For Whom the Bell Tolls is far from his best work, it does paint an extraordinarily vivid picture of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), as well as the Spanish countryside and its people. Drawing from his experience as a war correspondent during the conflict, Hemingway imbued the story with great emotive depth, virtuous characters, compelling action, and heartbreaking romance. As you turn the pages of the book, you will inevitably start visualizing the protagonist Robert Jordan, the beautiful Maria and the rest of their band of guerillas trekking across the lush pine forests of the Sierra de Guadarrama range in the Iberian Peninsula – and the image will stay with you for quite a while.
♦ On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Kerouac’s seminal On the Road is considered one of the most defining compositions on the Beat generation in post-World War II America. The book, while tame by today’s standard, was controversial in its day. It delves deeply into the selfhood and meanders on a different moral universe compared to 1950s America, where alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and music became the norm.
The book, inspired by Kerouac’s own cross-country travels and prominent figures within the Beat movement, has inspired many to retrace his route during the summer of 1947, winter of 1949, and the springs of 1949 and 1950. From San Francisco to Denver and New York to Mexico City, Kerouac’s On the Road is a real-life blueprint for the greatest road trip ever.
♦ Centennial by James A. Michener (1974)
No other work of fiction defines and dissects the American West, Wyoming and Colorado’s history more than James A. Michener’s monumental 1974 masterpiece, Centennial. In 2001, it even inspired the creation of a town called Centennial in Denver in honor of the book. Four decades earlier, NBC turned the historical fiction into the most expensive TV miniseries ever, starring heavyweights Robert Conrad, Richard Chamberlain and former James Bond actor, Timothy Dalton (one reviewer even stated that it was “so good I went searching for the town!”) When the book first came out, there were popular tours held around Weld County, Colorado, which serves as the real-life inspiration for Michener’s Centennial.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Michener, author of 26 fiction and 31 non-fiction books, was awarded the United States’ highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977 at the height of the book’s popularity. Ten years later, the U.S. Postal Service released a 59-cent Michener stamp as part of its Distinguished Americans series. His hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania even built a James A. Michener Art Museum in memory of its most famous citizen.
♦ Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
The thirteen novels of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (and even the three books of Lives of the Mayfair Witches) have one unifying thread – New Orleans. Interview with the Vampire (immortalized by the Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt’s 1994 movie of the same name), the first in the series, introduced us to Rice’s decadent, dreamy, dark, and sensual version of New Orleans, which was dominated by majestic architecture, magical tales and gorgeous denizens of the night – New Orleans has never seem so alluring.
♦ Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote (1958)
By the time you finish reading author and playwright Truman Capote’s novella, chances are, you will be madly in love with the beautifully naïve yet self-indulgent Holly Golightly and New York City. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is, at the end of the day, a character study of a flighty, wannabe-socialite with questionable morals, who in her own words, is “always top banana in the shock department”. However, it also provides a glimpse into the dazzling and ostentatious social scene of 1940s New York. Some even say, New York adapted itself to Capote’s vision of the city.
Song of the day: Feufollet – Au Fond du Lac