As many of us eagerly anticipate our upcoming holidays, this month's book collection encourages us to reconsider our summer-time travels and reflect on their essence. Do we embark on these journeys to break free from the monotony of our daily routines and mundane tasks? Are we looking for the ‘sublime’ and the ‘authentic’ to add meaning to our lives? Or do we aim to check off destinations on an ever-growing list of places to visit?
Regardless of your motives, these thought-provoking books will challenge your perspective and inspire a more mindful approach to travelling. Within their pages, you may discover that travel can be an art and a pathway to your authentic self. In the eloquent words of Albert Camus: “Far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks … we are completely on the surface of ourselves.”
Mountains of the Mind - Robert Macfarlane
Many of us are drawn to the mountains - their crisp air, infinite views and undulating horizons. But this fascination with mountains is relatively new, as Robert Macfarlane argues in his book. In Europe, some 300 years ago, mountains were seen as wild, dangerous and unpredictable places that were to be avoided. Our current, more favourable, perception of the mountains is the ‘invention’ of Romantics who found them ‘sublime’ places that hold you on the verge between fear and pleasure. In this wonderfully written and engaging book, Macfarlane interlaces historical narrative with his own mountaineering experiences to explore the transformation of mountain landscapes in our collective imagination.
The Art of Travel - Alain de Botton
Even though we often see travelling as a liberating experience, it sometimes is not - after all, we do bring ourselves on our journeys with all our anxieties and insecurities. Can we travel more mindfully and truly be present in our journeys? Alain de Botton offers a fascinating exploration of why and how we travel in this era of fast transport and accessibility of even the remotest locations. Travel can be an art in itself, and this wonderful book can help you find new meaning in your journeys.
Flights - Olga Tokarczuk (tr. Jennifer Croft)
Narrated by a nameless female traveller, the novel is a ‘constellation’ of 116 vignettes - stories both real and imagined - that the narrator collects throughout her travels. These vignettes recount the experiences of people travelling in different countries and circumstances but who are, in some way, connected to each other. Loosely based on Tokarczuk’s own experiences, the book is a plea for more meaningful travel and for going beyond what she calls “timid tourism”, where one travels only to stay “within the same metaphysical orbit of home” and leaves “in order to return.” First published in 2008 in Polish, this book made Olga Tokarczuk the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize.
The Little Buddhist Monk - Aira César (tr. Nick Caistor)
Aira César is a rather prolific Argentine author whose novels are as diverse as they are unpredictable: anything can happen, and nothing is what it seems. “The Little Buddhist Monk” is no exception. While the story starts in a relatively straightforward way - a Buddhist monk proposes to guide a couple of French tourists in Korea - it then turns marvellously weird and unexpected. This slim book poses many interesting questions about what an ‘authentic’ travel experience is and whether photography captures the reality of a place. If you enjoy such authors as Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Bolaño or are up for a read that will surprise and entertain - you are likely to enjoy this one.
The Walk - Robert Walser (tr. Christopher Middleton)
Robert Walser (1878–1956) was a Swiss modernist writer who was underappreciated by the general public in his lifetime but whose genius was recognised by other writers and thinkers, such as Franz Kafka, W.G. Sebald, J.M. Coetzee and Herman Hesse. The latter believed that if Walser ‘had a hundred thousand readers, the world would be a better place’. This book is a collection of short stories that showcase Walser’s deep understanding of the human psyche and empathy for his outsider protagonists. The title story follows a narrator who goes out on a walk that quickly becomes a meditation on artifice and sincerity, posturing and authenticity and the discovery of one’s true self through walking. At turns funny, surrealist and whimsy, these stories invite us to be more open and observant of the world around us.
Martin Parr - Small World (BONUS)
Martin Parr is a British street and documentary photographer and a longstanding member of Magnum Photos who explores the “quirks of ordinary life”, leisure, recreation and consumption. He has published more than 100 photobooks and received quite a number of awards. In Small World, Parr points his camera at mass tourism and the effects of globalisation. From Rome to Lapland and Las Vegas, this book will take you on a tour du monde, showing you how remarkably similar tourist experiences are regardless of their ‘background’. It is also highly likely to make you laugh out loud more than once!