20 books to take you around the world

20 books to take you around the world

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

In this famous line, George R. R. Martin captures one of the things I love best about reading. A good book, carefully chosen, can take you on a grand adventure—even while you never leave the comfy chair in your living room.

The third category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you who want to put the “oomph” back in your reading life—is “a book set somewhere you have never been but would like to visit.” Why? Because armchair travel, living room adventure, and vicarious exploration is fun. (Although if you want to be lofty about it, we can talk about how reading outside your typical experience stretches your boundaries, boosts your empathy, and broadens your horizons. But also—and importantly, for this challenge—it’s fun.)

The sky’s the limit on this category: you can read about a town an hour’s drive away or outer space, somewhere halfway around the world or a place that only exists in the imagination. If you’ve never been but would like to visit—whether that’s actually possible or not—it’s fair game for this category.

Need ideas for this category? These twenty titles set all over the globe are either personal favorites, or books I’m considering reading for this category myself.

20 books to take you around the world:

Series: Reading Challenge: Somewhere You'd Like to Visit
Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night

This is the story of beautiful, privileged people, and the insecurities that lay beneath the surface, threatening to ruin their seemingly perfect relationships. Its haunting and wistful tones suit the themes of love, longing, and growing up. Fitzgerald said of Tender, "Gatsby was a tour de force, but this is a confession of faith." Set in the French Riviera of the 1920s: if I can't go back in time, I'll settle for the Riviera. More info →
Travels with Charley in Search of America

Travels with Charley in Search of America

Author:
This 1960 chronicle is perfect for anyone who's dreamed of taking an epic road trip across America. With his French poodle Charley as companion, Steinbeck looped the country to visit forty states: from Long Island to Maine; then west all the way to Seattle; south to San Francisco and his birthplace, Salinas; then east through the Mojave to Texas, and then New Orleans, and finally north through Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to New York. WHAT A TRIP. More info →
The Rumor

The Rumor

This is my favorite Hilderbrand novel. Nantucket novelist Madeline King is on deadline but has a huge case of writer's block: she needs a story for her next novel, and she needs it fast. Then her best friend Grace starts crushing on her handsome landscape architect and the story comes easy, but the same can't be said for life OFF the page. Hilderbrand has been dubbed "queen of the summer novel," largely thanks to the fact that they're set in her home of Nantucket. More info →
In the Woods

In the Woods

Author:
This is the first of French's popular Dublin Murder Squad, and it’s twisty and unpredictable. The story has two primary threads: one revolves around a psychopath, the other around a supernatural disturbance, and you'll want to talk about both. I would love to visit Ireland, but this is a far cry from a beautiful, scenic novel: I'm hoping for a lot less crime and gore on my visit. More info →
The Luminaries

The Luminaries

Author:
This bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning novel is set in New Zealand during the gold rush of 1866. At 848 pages, this novel is an investment, but those who are up for the challenge are rewarded with a large cast of well-drawn characters, a sophisticated structure, and a well-developed and ultimately rewarding mystery. (Or so I'm told by readers with great taste: this is still on my TBR!) More info →
Four Seasons in Rome

Four Seasons in Rome

Author:
This magical memoir is about the year Doerr, his wife, and his twin baby boys spent in Rome after he won a writer's residency grant. He found out about the award the same day they brought the twins home from the hospital. Doerr writes beautifully about his year abroad, from the everyday and the extraordinary: grocery shopping, sourcing baby gear (for twins!), his wife's illness, sightseeing, Pope John Paul II's funeral. I googled every street, church, and town he referenced. I loved his references to the novel he was writing while in Rome: many years later, it became All the Light We Cannot See. More info →
Into the Wild

Into the Wild

Author:
Investigative reporter Krakauer turns his eye towards the true story of Chris McCandless, a good kid from a well-off family who turns his back on the materialist world, cuts off contact with his family, dubs himself Alexander Supertramp, and walks alone into the Alaskan wilderness to begin a new stripped-down life for himself. Four months later, his body was found. This is Krakauer's attempt to make sense of McCandless's life and death. More info →
A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

Author:
Towles's most recent novel tells the story of Count Alexander Roskov, an aristocrat who the Bolsheviks sentence convict in 1922 for crimes of state (involving poetry). His punishment is house arrest, for the duration of his life, inside the elegant Metropol Hotel. Towles show us how, over many decades, the Count makes a life for himself after his walls literally close in. One of my favorites of 2016. More info →
Maybe in Another Life

Maybe in Another Life

When Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles, she spends a night on the town with an old friend. The decision she makes at the end of that night changes her life, and in alternating chapters, we find out exactly how. Like many Taylor Jenkins Reid books, this one is compulsively readable, but serious themes lay beneath the surface. Imagine a happier Sliding Doors, with less cheating and more cinnamon rolls. More info →
The Year of Living Danishly

The Year of Living Danishly

Author:
"Hygge" is all the rage right now, and this book played a big role in that trend. When British journalist moved to Jutland in rural Denmark for a year, she wasn't too excited about it—she was only following her husband to his shiny new job at LEGO. But then, to her surprise, she discovered that Danes are the happiest people on the planet, and she resolved to spend the year investigating why. Heads up: not everyone loves her writing style, but the content is fascinating. More info →
Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Author:
The first book of Laini Taylor's wildly creative and highly original YA fantasy series is set in the beautiful city of Prague—an absolutely perfect setting for the otherwordly battle a young art student inadvertently gets tangled up in. Many readers who don't typically read these genres have found this series a delightful surprise. More info →
The Husband’s Secret

The Husband’s Secret

Author:
I love Moriarty—she's one of my favorite authors worth binge reading—and while I could have chosen any of her novels to take me to Australia, I specifically chose this one because it splits time between Sydney and Melbourne. This story about three Australian women whose lives intersect in unexpected ways is packed full of secrets. Moriarty addressed dark topics here, but her tone remains light and witty, and she manages to weave in interesting notes—the Berlin wall, the myth of Pandora, the Snow White fairy tale. I loved this on audio: the Australian accent was delightful. More info →
No Knives in the Kitchens of This City

No Knives in the Kitchens of This City

Author:
Is this a great title or what? This novel, set in the once-beautiful city of Aleppo, follows one large Syrian family across three generations, dating from the 1960s. The city itself is a central character in the novel; as Khalifa writes, "Cities die just like people." Some readers tell me they're reading this as their "book of any genre that addresses current events." More info →
Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

Author:
In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. Great on audio. Three Pines is fictional, but that doesn't stop me from yearning to visit. (Since I can't have Three Pines, I'll happily settle for another Québécois town.) More info →
A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast

The best part of Hemingway's classic memoir may be the setting: 1920s Paris. In this series of sketches, Hemingway remembers what it was like to be a young, struggling artist in Paris during that time. Through Hemingway's spare, precise prose, the feel of the city oozes from its pages. More info →
The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener

Author:
Le Carré's modern classic opens in northern Kenya with the brutal murder of Tessa Quayle, a beautiful young aid worker. When her husband Justin, a much older diplomat, begins to investigate what happened, he slowly realizes his wife had stumbled upon a grand conspiracy, becoming a threat to powerful interests in the region. Like so many Le Carré novels, this is the story of a decent man driven to desperate action by tragedy. More info →
State of Wonder

State of Wonder

Author:
This is one of my favorite Patchett novels. In this tense adventure story, a staid Minnesota researcher travels into the heart of the Amazon to find out how her colleague died while checking in on their pharmaceutical company's top secret research project in the jungle. Patchett combines big business, fertility, conspiracy, and anacondas to fascinating ends. More info →
Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

This engrossing story combines medicine, family, and politics to great effect. Moving between India, Ethiopia, and New York City, we follow the story of identical twin brothers, born of a secret union between an Indian nun and the British surgeon she assisted. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part sweeping family story, this novel defies easy genre categorizations and ranks as the favorite book EVER of legions of readers. More info →
All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Author:
Anthony Doerr totally deserves to be on this list twice. The characters in this war novel are fascinating and altogether unexpected, and the book’s setting couldn’t be lovelier: much of the action takes place in Saint-Malo, France, a unique walled port city on the English Channel. You'll want to book your ticket immediately. More info →
Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited

Author:
This is one of my very favorites that I read over and over again. This sweeping novel set in Britain between the world wars chronicles the Flyte family’s unraveling—along with the rest of Britain’s aristocracy—as viewed through the wistful eyes of lieutenant Charles Ryder. Drenched in themes of love, loss, and grace. Recommended reading for Downton Abbey fans. More info →

Where have you never been, but would love to visit? What are YOU reading for this category? 

20 books to take you around the world

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47 comments

  1. Cheryl says:

    This may as well be my reading list for the rest of the year! Except for A Gentleman in Moscow. I’ve already read that one twice and love it so much I may read it again soon. (It has now become one of my “3 I love” were I ever to be on your podcast.)
    We just booked our summer vacation and I’m already plotting my vacation reading. I think the Moriarty and Le Carre will do nicely. Thanks as usual for a great list of books.

  2. Victoria says:

    What an interesting list of books! I’ve been meaning to read Patchett’s State of Wonder for ages, this has pushed it up even further on my TBR-list! 🙂

    I’m drawn to Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy at the moment (despite having visited once!), it’s the spring season’s fault I suspect!

  3. I was very impressed at how well John Le Carré transmitted the ambience of Nairobi and Kenya.
    “Palace Walk” by Naguib Mahfouz took me inside homes in Cairo. It was the kind of book I never would have chosen but for the author winning raves after his Nobel Prize and I figured I should educate myself. It was an utter pleasure. I felt a little culture shock every time I put it down and found myself in the South of France and not in Egypt.
    It reminded me a bit of “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather. Not plot-driven yet not boring.
    One more: “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” by Carlo Levi. Life in deepest Italy.

  4. Heidi says:

    If you’re looking for something lighter (way lighter, compared to Hemingway & Steinbeck), I suggest “Aunt Dimity’s Death” by Nancy Atherton. It starts out in an unseasonably cold Boston spring (how timely!) and moves to a quaint English village in the Cotswolds but a large part of the story describes WWII London. Still my favorite of the 20+ book series after over 20 years.

  5. Jess says:

    A Thousand Days in Venice and A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi. Gorgeous and wonderful, and probably technically food memoirs. You will want to move immediately to Italy (if you don’t already feel that way now!)

  6. sherry says:

    I’ve already read my book for a place I’ve never been but want to visit, “Homegoing” – which was really wonderful. I’ve wanted to visit Africa for several years now. There are several books on this list, however, that I definitely want to add to my queue!

  7. Heather says:

    I love this category! I actually traveled to Scotland a few years ago due to my love of the Outlander novels and planned our itinerary around places/landmarks from the books. This past year I went to England for the Harry Potter play and got to enjoy all that the country has to offer for Harry fans. Would love to find another read that inspires an actual trip! Thanks for sharing such a great list!

  8. Tara says:

    Ahh, so many great choices on this list! A Gentleman in Moscow was one of my favorite novels last year; talk about traveling through a novel. Wow! What a great read! Thanks for sharing this list, Anne!

  9. Liz Erdmer says:

    A Year in Provence… you can smell the lavender, break the first piece off the baguette, and taste the wine. Better than being there and having to deal with the local tradespeople.

  10. Heidi says:

    I’m on book four of the Gamache series, and really the only place I want to go now is Three Pines, to stay with Olivier and Gabri. She writes cozy so well!

  11. Carey Mitchell says:

    Thank you, Anne, for such a great list! I love reading books that are set in places I will see in the future. I just added “Into the Wild” to my TBR list as we’ll be traveling there in July. Does anyone know of books set in Stockholm or Copenhagen? We’ll be going there in the fall!

    • Erica says:

      If you haven’t already read it, I would recommend The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It’s set in Alaska, and the setting is almost like a character in the book. Plus it’s a fantastic and beautiful novel!

    • Marlizette De Kock says:

      I read Lars Kepler’s book The Hypnotist, which is set in Sweden. Though it’s quite scary it’s a stunning thriller and describes the location quite well during winter time.

  12. Another wonderful worldly book—and major foodie book—is Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini. Paula and her husband are news correspondents. Paula’s husband gets shot while working in Warsaw. The cooking of foods in Rome nurse them both back to emotional and physical health. I tracked this author down and met her when I was in Paris. I don’t know why this book didn’t get more attention. It’s one of my favorites.

  13. Dori says:

    Well-known author Bill Bryson writes fabulously and with great wit about his adventures in various places (Appalachian Trail, England, US road trip). He is one of my favorites and has more than a few books that would be a great option for this category.

    • Amanda says:

      Excellent suggestion! A Walk in the Woods is one I could read again and again, and it always makes me fantasize about hiking the Appalachian Trail someday. I love Bryson’s style, whatever the topic.

  14. Denise says:

    All the Light We Cannot See is fabulous. I recommend it to everyone.
    In the Woods has appeared on multiple of your lists, but I didn’t like it at all. The writing is fine, but the main character is not likable and I found the end dissatisfying on many levels. It does take place in Ireland, but it doesn’t convey much of a sense of place, which I think would be a requirement given the name of the list.

  15. Jessica says:

    When ever I have wanderlust, I read Bill Bryson’s A Sunburned Country and Lost on Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation. Both are hysterical.

  16. Hilary Mak says:

    No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – Alexander McCall Smith
    You can smell and feel Africa in these books, not to mention taste Mma Ramotswe’s famous red USB tea!

  17. CGinAZ says:

    I am new to your site, Mrs. Darcy, and am enjoying all your suggestions. Years ago my daughter gave me an anthology of John Steinbeck novels. It included Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men and The Moon is Down. The poor book is now spineless and tattered from all the reading and lending. I’ve purchased other of his books, some in the Steinbeck museum in Monterey, on a trip up the California coast, but have not read Travels with Charlie. This will be my next selection.

  18. Armchair travel is my life. I love this prompt for book suggestions! I’m a huge Fitzgerald fan, but have yet to read Tender is the Night. I KEEP hearing that I need to read Tana French, so this is reminding me of that as well.

    The Husband’s Secret! Good quick read.

    Have you read Euphoria? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it!

  19. Ann says:

    Great idea…
    How about Australia/The Thornbirds?
    Norway/Lotta Jansdotter?
    Sweden/The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
    Canada/The Shipping News

    Love this list –

    • Mary Ann Garcia says:

      I loved The Shipping News! Annie Proulx is fabulous, I have yet to read her latest Barkskins. Set in the late 17th century it takes the reader from Canada or “New France” to Europe, China and New Zealand. Quite the trip.

  20. Becca says:

    Per your suggestions, I devoured the Inspector Gamache books last summer. I was absolutely fascinated by Quebec (the walled city! The bays! The deep woods! The rock outcropping!) and consistently googled-imaged the places she described. I would love love love to visit.

  21. Liz Erdmer says:

    Hawaii by James Michener. Still the definitive book on the islands. Hugely entertaining and we learned a lot reading it on our first trip to HI. The first section on the geology of the island can be skipped, it’s a bit contrived… and I’m a geologist.

  22. Sarah Kelsey says:

    “Out” by Natsuo Kirino was an un-put-downable thriller set in Tokyo at a bento box factory and it completely transported me, terrified me and years later I still link Tokyo with this book!

  23. Marlizette De Kock says:

    Another book that completely transported me was Inferno by Dan Brown. It felt like I was part of the mad rush through Italy and Turkey, etc. Loved it!

  24. Maudeen Haisch Wachsmith says:

    Wonderful recommendations! I try to read books set in my travel destinations. In 1999, I read “Outlander” in its “Cross Stitch” persona in Scotland while visiting many of the sites mentioned in the book. I’ve enjoyed reading Maeve Binchy, Edna O’Brien, Marian Keyes in Ireland. I do the same when visiting domestic locales such as Louise Erdrich in Minnesota and JT Ellison in Nashville. I’m going to Cape Cod for genealogy research in May and am looking for books set there.

  25. lynne richmond says:

    As i was surveying your list, one of the absolute favorites of my whole life kept popping into my mind… and lo and behold it made your list…. Cutting for Stone…. Some books grab me at page one; but eventually lose me…. but not this one!!!! Verghese’s descriptions of even the weather held me spellbound!! I want to read it all over again… but I need to figure out who was the last person to borrow my treasure!!! Thanks for your great list!

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