8 Places to Travel Through Books This Quarantine Season
With most of us in self isolation or limited to work-and-back, travel is rare. Books, though, always transport me to new places and make me see places I’ve been in a new way. These picks are ingrossing enough to distract from always pinging news alerts and transformative enough to make you forget for an hour or two that you’re still in your apartment.
Japan — If Cats Disappeared From the World by Genki Kawamura
I read this little book in one sitting, and thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses of Japan and those of a world unlike the one we enjoy today — yes, even the possibility of one with cats. This book will make you laugh, cry and ask yourself, unironically, “What is the meaning of life?” all while reading about a devil clad in a Hawaiian shirt. The question of what you would trade for more time on this planet is one that could prompt discussion on your next family Zoom hangout.
The American West — The Better Liar by Tanen Jones
Start this twisty thriller before bedtime and you’ll be up for a while. Leslie didn’t plan on seeing her sister Robin again. Yet, when their father dies, he makes it a condition of his will that they claim their inheritance either together or not at all. This book travels from Las Vegas to New Mexico alongside Leslie as she first searches for her sister, then finds her sister dead, then hires a stranger to pretend to be her sister in exchange for half the cash. Will it work? Leslie has more riding on the bargain than she’ll admit to anyone.
Calcutta, India — The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
A tour of decades of Indian history told through two very different brothers, this family epic bounces between the U.S. and Calcutta as it explores activism, family and the different flavors of motherhood. Subhash is a responsible older brother, the perfect contrast for the younger, passionate and sometimes rebellious, Udayan. Subhash is at an American graduate school when he learns that Udayan has been killed by police due to his political activities. Subhash heads home to his parents and finds his brother’s pregnant widow staying with them. Out of duty, he convinces her to marry him and come to the U.S. The book follows him for decades as he raises his daughter and as they grapple together with the true meaning of family.
Oxford, England — Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Though Joy loves her two children dearly, she prioritizes her writing career alongside motherhood, and is punished for it by her husband. Enter the beloved author C.S. Lewis. They develop a deep friendship, and eventually love, after Joy first writes to him about her experience converting to Christianity. In Joy, this surprisingly feminist story highlights a writer who deserves to be known; you’ll reach for her poems next. The sections at Oxford University, where C.S. Lewis taught, and his nearby house, The Kilns, will immerse you in the beauty of the English countryside, right alongside the Pevensie children.
Portland, Oregon — Stray City by Chelsey Johnson
This is a door-stop of a book, really several novellas in one, that I devoured despite the length. The 90s indie-rock scene in Portland Oregon is a character in itself, with the book centering around a group of lesibian friends. They’ve escaped their various upbringings to come together as strays in this zine and girl-power filled underground. When one of their own becomes pregnant though, they all question what unites their created family. This book will have you laughing out-loud, reaching for a highlighter for Johnson’s quirky and ever-morphing writing style and ultimately, awwing over the conclusion to this truly original love story.
Nigeria — Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
An examination of love and marriage for fans of An American Marriage and Fates and Furies, I found this debut impossible to put down. It explores how even when two lovers begin with the best of intentions, how cultural pressure, family obligations and unmet expectations can make us do what we never thought possible. Set across decades, the author weaves in evolving political and cultural forces in Nigeria.
Savannah, Georgia — Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Set in my home state of Georgia, this true story reads like an expertly written thriller, and follows the murder trial of a male prostitute in Savannah. You’ll fall in love with vine-snarred cemeteries and trees draped with Spanish moss alongside the eccentric personalities depicted in the book — but which one is guilty, and what are the rest hiding?
Naples, Italy — Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante
If you haven’t yet delved into this four-book series tracing the decades of sometimes friendship, but more often than not, something far more complicated, this would be a great time to spend a season in post-WWII Italy. And you can follow with the HBO-series based on the first book.
Lindsey Rogers Cook is the author of How to Bury Your Brother — read it to travel to the creeks and forests of Georgia — and a journalist at The New York Times. She lives in Hoboken, NJ. Visit her online at www.lindseyrogerscook.com.