“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.
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 →
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. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
"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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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?