I always find travel more meaningful when I've read books that either take place or are about the location I'm visiting. The actual experience of travel can feel fleeting but when I've sat in a book for weeks, digesting it's content and minutiae, I feel like I've been there all along. There's also the thrill of finally seeing those sites you read so much about in real life and noticing the tiny little details you might never have known without the book. Whether it's non-fiction, historical fiction or a fictional story set in a real place, it's almost as if I feel a deeper connection with the city, like we're old friends.
Istanbul: Memories & The City by Orhan Pamuk
Immediately after booking our trip to Istanbul, I started looking for a book to read as I really knew very little about the city. Pamuk is widely known as the Turkish writer (he won a Nobel prize in 2002 for literature) and when I saw that he had a memoir all about Istanbul, I figured it would be the perfect accompaniment.
Well, I might have been a bit wrong. This book was hard to read. I wanted so badly to enjoy it, but I just didn't. To be honest, I didn't even finish it. I stopped about two thirds of the way through; Joe stopped at the halfway point. It wasn't a total waste; I certainly felt like I learned some of the inner workings of the city and the cultural values that some of its long time residents hold dear.
I really yearned for more of Pamuk's story in Istanbul when it felt like the majority of the book focused on everyone else's thoughts about Istanbul. He spent ages talking about foreign writers' perceptions of the city when all I really wanted were his personal experiences. In fact, the moments that I loved in the book were the stories about his family & their life through the fall of the Ottoman empire. Unfortunately, those stories felt few and far between and there wasn't really a consistent plot to keep me interested. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen one of his fictional stories. I've heard My Name is Red is fantastic and I'll probably pick it up down the road.
Tales from the Expat Harem edited by Anastasia Ashman & Jennifer Eaten Gökmen
I purchased the Kindle edition of this book as I thought it would provide a great contrast to Pamuk; a native Istanbullu's experience juxtaposed against the foreigners who have called Turkey home. Tales is a collection of short stories from women of all walks of life - those who visited Turkey and never left, those who moved for love, those who moved for work, those who live in Istanbul and those who live in conservative, rural villages. I felt like I gained some really great insight into a Turkish home and being an expat, I could certainly relate to the ideas and challenges of integrating into a different culture.
(On a side note, Joe read Dan Brown's Inferno a few months prior to our trip and he was really excited to see some of the locations in person.)
And a book completely unrelated to Turkey...
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Last year, I read The Paris Wife followed by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises before our Spring trip to Europe and then this year, in anticipation of the film, I finally read Gatsby. Throw in regular viewing of Midnight in Paris and I feel like a silent observer in this tortured group of writers & artists.
Z was a fantastic read. While the author readily puts forward that this is a work of fiction, it is based upon the real life stories and letters of the Fitzgeralds. Their turbulent marriage is really brought to life here and Fowler has a way of telling a somewhat tragic story with a lightness and humour. I cheered for Zelda and her sassy personality, I laughed at her sometimes outrageous behaviour and I felt sadness for those missed opportunities at the life and success she yearned for. It was a great, insightful book and I was sad to see it come to an end.
And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
I think most people agree, Hosseini is a master storyteller and his new book has been on my to-read list ever since I heard about it.
Have you read any books that have inspired or enhanced travel?