When You’re Yearning to Travel

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So it’s summer. And it’s rainy and cool. Walking the trail in between rain showers requires an inordinate amount of DEET, plus a helpful walking buddy who is willing to slap the clouds of mosquitoes off your back. And when you get home, the house desperately needs to be vacuumed and dusted. Tasks you really, really want NOT to be doing. You’d really, really rather be on the road, going somewhere. Sigh. So what do you do, my friends, when you’re yearning to travel and you’re not going anywhere soon?

Do you even have to ask? Read, people. Read about adventures in really cool places. Or even better, hot places. Places where you’ve never been. Or places where you have been and kind of wish you were right now. Ha.

Places like the old town of Vieste in Italy which Hubby and I visited last fall. Oh, it was lovely. We strolled and ate and drank and just revelled in the loveliness.

Old town Vieste, Italy. October 2018
Evening in Vieste, Italy. October 2018.

But if I can’t have Vieste, or Urbino (I loved Urbino), or Rome. I can read about them or places like them, and remember. Last year before we left on our trip my friend Frances of Materfamilias Writes sent me this lovely little book and I enjoyed it immensely. I know that some of you are Diana Athill fans, and now I am too. A Florence Diary is, as you’d expect from the title, a diary of Athill’s time in Florence in 1947. I loved it for the writing, but also for her description of the naive wonder that we all experience when we visit a lovely place for the first time.

Diana Athill's book A Florence Diary for when you're yearning to travel but can't.
A little gem of a book.

Penelope Lively’s anti-memoir Making it Up is not a travel book, but it takes us places. And it also deals with a fascinating question of “what if?” What if a specific event had not happened, how might the course of our life have been changed?

Somehow, choice and contingency have landed you where you are, as the person you are, and the whole process seems so precarious that you look back at those climactic moments when things might have gone entirely differently, when life might have spun off in some other direction, and wonder at this apparently arbitrary outcome.

Penelope Lively, Making It Up.

Lively’s musings take the reader to places she knew, and deal with events that affected the course of her life. We travel to Egypt where Lively was born, and she wonders what if she and her mother hadn’t escaped Cairo at the beginning of World War II. She takes us to an archaeological dig in southern England where she might have worked one summer, but didn’t. And to a tragic battle in Korea in which her husband might have fought and died, but didn’t. She plays with the mythology of her own life, her own history. This idea combined with Lively’s wonderful storytelling makes for a fascinating and engrossing book. Not least of which because one can dip into and out of the book. Especially when the sky clears and one might venture outside for a while, if only to hang the washing on the line. Ha.

Penelope Lively's book Making It Up is good for when you're yearning to travel but can't.
Looks like my cherished copy of Penelope Lively’s memoir has a splotch of paint on it.

I first started thinking about travel books that aren’t travel books the other day, when I read an article in the on-line journal Crime Reads to which I subscribe. In her article, August Thomas looks at Agatha Christie as a travel writer. Of course, Christie is well known for her fiction set in exotic places. The Mystery of the Blue Train, travels from Paris to the French Riviera. Appointment With Death, starts in Jerusalem and moves on to Petra, in Jordan. My favourite is At Bertram’s Hotel. Okay, maybe a “respectable” hotel in London might not seem like exotic travel to you, but, still, it is set in a hotel. And I love how Miss Marple solves crimes from behind her knitting.

In her article, Agatha Christie, Travel Writer, August Thomas introduces us to a Christie book which is new to me. A little-known travel memoir called Come, Tell Me How You Live which describes Christie’s time in the middle east with her archaeologist husband. I love that Christie talks about shopping for plus-size garments appropriate for travel in a hot climate, and about her husband’s packing issues. It sounds like perfect reading for someone who is yearning to travel, but who is stuck at home. In the rain. So, I’ve just ordered it.

The scenic road across the Campo Imperatore in Italy has me yearning to travel
The road less travelled in Italy last fall.

Of course I won’t be stuck at home yearning to travel for the whole summer. Hubby and I are heading out in two weeks on our early summer camping trip. Hopefully the weather will co-operate. The rain will back off, and the bugs will, well, bugger off. If you’ll pardon my language. But just in case we might have to spend more time than we’d like in the tent, we’ll be packing lots of books.

I’ve been waiting it seems like forever for Kate Atkinson’s newest Jackson Brodie mystery Big Sky to be released. My name is on a very long list at the library. But, I’ll probably buy it instead. I own most of Kate Atkinson’s books. She hasn’t had a Jackson Brodie mystery published in years, and I am very excited to read it. But also sad that once I’ve read it, it will be done. Sigh. That’s a common book lover’s conundrum, don’t you think? So while I’m in a tent-trailer hiding from the rain and the bugs in a couple of weeks, I’ll also happily be in Yorkshire where Big Sky is set. Where they will no doubt be battling rain as well. I’m not sure about the bugs.

I’ll do the same with Jane Harper’s newest book The Lost Man, buy it in Kindle form instead of waiting for my name to come up at the library. I’m thinking that when I’m stuck in a tent-trailer in the wet, reading about the parched Australian outback will be good. Harper’s stand-alone book has had great reviews. I loved The Dry, and liked Force of Nature. She’s taking a break from her police procedural series, featuring federal agent Aaron Falk, with this book. The Lost Man is the story of a “baffling” death in the brutal and isolated outback region of Queensland where one’s closet neighbour lives a three hour drive away. You can read a really interesting article about Harper and her books here. I’ll let you know how I get on with this latest book.

So while I am complaining about the weather this week. And I am yearning to travel, itching to be on the road again. I’m not bored. At least I’m not yearning to travel in vain, like last summer when I was laid up with a nasty case of shingles. And I’ve plenty of great books to keep me busy. Books which can transport me to places I’ve been (and loved) like Australia or Italy or Yorkshire, and to exotic places where I’d love to go like Egypt.

Now… what about you my friends? Read any transporting books lately? Books that might stand in for travel when we yearn to be away but are stuck at home?

P.S. All the books I reviewed can be found on Amazon, with whom I have an affiliate relationship. If you click on a link and buy I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Here are the links to the books I’ve recommended today:

Diana Athill’s A Florence Diary. Penelope Lively’s Making It Up. Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, Appointment With Death, At Bertram’s Hotel, and Come, Tell Me How You Live. Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky. And Jane Harper’s The Lost Man.

Linking up with #ShareAllLinkUp at Not Dressed as Lamb, and Thursday Favourite Things at Marilyn’s Treats.

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23 thoughts on “When You’re Yearning to Travel”

  1. I so enjoyed this post for a number of reasons.
    I am loving crime fiction lately and have also realised I love a sense of place, best of all hot place, better if pre internet when everything was more mysterious. Just downloaded Evil Under The Sun which ticks all the boxes.
    Second of all a dear friend bought me the Athill book ages ago and it has been on the shelf , so your glowing review has dragged it to the top of the pile.
    Third, the paper doll dress on the cover of the Lively. I have been thinking a lot about the innocence of childhood in the 50s/60s lately and paper dolls figured in my musings.
    And finally I am going to Montreal and Quebec this summer (though your pics have made me yearn for Italy) and am (bizarrely for most) getting almost as excited about starting the new-to-me Louise Penny ‘Gamache’ series of novels as the trip itself.
    At the moment, along with the Christie, I am reading a fascinating book on the history of the Thames Estuary by Caroline Crampton, whose parents built the own boat and sailed in it from South Africa to England. It has beautiful maps and fascinating photographs too. It is called ‘The Way to the Sea’. I discovered it when she mentioned it on her podcast ‘Shedunnit’ which is about the golden age of crime and one of my favourites now. How’s that for a segue?

    Apologies for any spelling or other errors, as I am typing this on my phone at 3.45 am in London in my hospital bed, having had my appendix removed 12 hours ago – an emergency at 63 years old – quite funny if it doesn’t hurt one to laugh, which it does me.
    All the best for all your travels, keep ’em coming!

    1. I loved that paper doll dress on the cover of Lively’s book too. I remember fondly playing with paper dolls. I hope your recovery goes well. And hope you enjoy Montreal, and Quebec. I presume you mean Quebec City? It is truly a gem of a city. I am off to try to find that podcast. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I’ve loved Come, Tell Me How You Live,as well as all of Christie’s books
    I’m reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens-slowly,but it is a book to read slowly and think about–the history of humankind,and Paolo Cognetti’s Sofia Always Dresses in Black
    Dottoressa
    P. S. i’ve sent you an email yesterday

    1. I’ve ordered that Christie book. Good to find someone else who has read it. Thanks for the other suggestions, Dottoressa. I sent you a reply e-mail:)

  3. Wendy in York

    It’s very clever the way you write your posts from unpredictable angles , turning a personal travel reminiscence into a book review post .
    You’ve mentioned lots of my favorite books here . Diane Athill was a wonderful writer , so wise & there’s such a lot to learn from her experiences . Reading is sometimes denigrated as escapism but there is a wealth of information available to teach us how to cope with life’s problems . Penelope Lively is in that vein too & I recommend all her autobiographical books . Like all good biographers she’s very honest about the the good & bad in her life .
    I read Christie mysteries years ago but my taste has changed & I wouldn’t now . Like you I enjoyed the Egypt book & her autobiography is excellent – though she doesn’t mention her escape to Harrogate when her first marriage broke down .
    Jackson Brodie is a favourite character & I wish Atkinson would write more of them – & quicker . I’ll probably get it on Kindle too . I’m just finishing the latest Robert Galbraith ( JK Rowling ) & it has kept me happily occupied in bad weather .
    I hope the camping trip turns out better than expected . Perhaps our Yorkshire rain will have stopped by then but no problem with flying beasties here- too flipping chilly for them .
    PS like Cindy , I loved those paper dolls

    1. Clever or just the way my meandering mind works? Ha. I’ve been meaning to get some of Lively’s other non-fiction, but haven’t yet. There are sooo many books to read, eh? Can’t wait to read Atkinson’s latest!

  4. I like Patrick Leigh Fermor for a sense not just of place but of time as well. A Time Of Gifts is a jewel of a book. Not sure why I didn’t pack both of his other books set in Greece for when I was on holiday but now I can go and dig them out and enjoy them while I wait for the rain to stop and the sun to come back. Slightly off track, but do let me recommend a book I did read on holiday and which got me through a four hour flight with minimal stress – Dadland by Keggie Carew. Beautiful writing, fascinating subject – love, loss, family, old age.

    1. I have that exact Patrick Leigh Fermor book… which I bought when I was in England in 2017. I’d read that he was Debo of Devonshire’s favourite writer, other than Beatrix Potter. Plus I think he was a friend of the Mitford’s. I should dig it out and take it with me on holiday.

  5. Living in a seaside town in Greece ( which many people will envy ) my perfect escapist book is set somewhere cool and preferably rainy, say Scotland, as I hate the heat !
    I’m going to try some of your suggestions, maybe a crime novel, I have just finished re-reading ” Vienna Passion ” by Lilian Faschinger, which I REALLY don’t remember at all. Do you get that, Sue ? Happens to me quite often these days ! It’s a rather bizarre story set between the 1800’s and the present day. My next read , which I’m really looking forward to is Dorothy Whipple’s “High Wages “, love her books as I know you do too. I sadly don’t have any travels planned at the moment, but live in hope, and enjoy reading about yours !

    1. Love that you like to read of places that are NOT hot. Have you read Peter May’s Lewis trilogy? It’s really good, well written, and with lots of Scottish island atmosphere. Enjoy the Dorothy Whipple… love her books.

  6. All excellent suggestions! May I add the podcast “shedunnit” — all about mystery writers (female) of the golden age of mystery writing. Also fun are those 19th and early 20th century women travellers accounts. May there be sun and no black flies while camping !

    1. I will check out that podcast immediately after finishing these replies. I seem to be all about he podcasts these days. Fingers are crossed about the black flies. And toes. Ha.

  7. Reading your post is like taking a little trip…a pleasant meandering on life, weather and books. So enjoyable–thank you. And thank you to other commenters on their reading lists.
    As for my own reading, historian David McCullough’s latest, The Pioneers is reminding me that I would have been a lousy pioneer. As an aside, when I used to drive my commute from hell, I listened to CDs of McCullough reading his other books. Truly spoiled me as he has a wonderful voice. Now I am reading this book and I find myself ‘hearing’ his voice–wondering how he would use it to enhance the story.
    Other books read or in the line up to read: finished all but the last of Winspear’s Maisie Dobb’s series; Mary Laura Philpott’s essay collection entitled I Miss You When I Blink (good read); awaiting pickup at the library is Judith Viorst’s Nearing ninety: and other comedies of late life; for the travel aspect (none planned until mid Sept) Uniform Justice by Donna Leon; and How Paris became Paris : the invention of the modern city.

    1. Thanks, Mary. I wish I’d had audible books and a bluetooth connection in my car when I was commuting. I find myself reading books in the voice a great narrator as well. I can’t listen to a book if I don’t like the narrator.

  8. Thanks for another great post. When I’m yearning for travel, I start researching a possible destination. Depending on my mood and what I uncover, my findings get filed in my mind or bookmarked or just forgotten- haha.
    I am currently reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, By Bill Bryson. It is good but I am not totally into it, might be a better book for winter reading. It’s due back at the library in a few days so today might be a reading marathon…..
    BTW, loved your white jeans post but never got around to commenting. You look perfect lounging in that red Adirondack chair.
    Suz from Vancouver

    1. Thanks, Suz. I haven’t read that particular Bill Bryson. I loved Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, which is the only non-travel book of his I’ve read.

  9. I’ve not read many of the books you write so delightfully about but I’ve added a number to my reading list, thank you. I try to borrow books from libraries these days rather than add to my large book collection, though I don’t always succeed. Like you, I love the way books transport us to other times and other places in ways infinitely more comfortable than real travel with its queues and jet lag. At the moment I’m loving Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, a memoir of her time as Secretary of State. It’s a dense and demanding book – not best late at night when tired – but very rewarding because of her fascinating descriptions of the very many countries she visited in an official capacity, giving wonderful insights into other cultures from a very special perspective. When we visit foreign lands it’s not usually to meet with their leaders or discuss difficult and important matters and of course, non-fiction can be just as engaging as fiction. I’m loving learning about the history of the places she visited and about the evolution of US foreign policy. It’s a great way to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of recent political history and it’s a most rewarding but slow read because there’s so much to take in.

    1. We get a lot of our books from the library, too. But lately I’ve loved the easy availability of older books on Kindle. And some books I just want to own, and be able to keep. Like Kate Atkinson. That Hilary Clinton books sounds fascinating, although I’m not much for dense non-fiction.

  10. Thank-you again, for a thoughtful post, Sue!
    I have noted a number of your suggestions. Next, I will search them on our library database. And therein lies the next challenge. We don’t have as comprehensive a library down here on the South Shore of NS as in larger centres. I guess they feel that watching nature as it tells it’s own story is going to occupy much of our time. Nature does take over in many ways. Like taking ticks off of our dog after a walk, or fighting off black flies while planting the vege garden. And, although the black flies are currently driving me indoors, the ocean vistas remain splendid.

    1. I know we are very lucky with our library in Ottawa. The ability to shuffle books between branches is wonderful. Hope out current provincial government doesn’t get wind of how great it is. Still… I envy you your ocean vistas. I’d love to live on the ocean.

  11. Alas, no transporting books on my bedside dresser. That said, your mention of Italy elicited a protracted sigh as it remains a country I’ve never set foot in — despite all the times I’ve been in France, including so close…

    You have also reminded me of one of the great pleasures of watching good BBC or Masterpiece Theatre mysteries on television. I gravitate to period series taking place in England and Scandinavia, and I am always awestruck by the landscapes and the architecture and in the case of Scandinavia, the moodiness that is so prevalent in many of the shows that make their way across the Atlantic.

    I realize that is not the same as reading and using one’s imagination, but when I am tired and want beauty as well as a mind-engaging plot, these mysteries and crime shows of quality entice me. They do so in large part by giving me some sense of walking around far off places I have yet to spend time in.

    A slight digression: one of my sons is now living in Europe, he travels for fun on the weekends when he can and he travels a bit for his job as well. I am living vicariously through some of his adventures and the photographs he takes. Seeing him see the world while he is young and free? That, too, is a great source of pleasure.

    1. I hear you. We are getting ready to settle down to the new season of Endeavour on Masterpiece, tonight. What a wonderful series that pays homage to Colin Dexter’s original books, and to the original Morse series with John Thaw, in such subtle ways.

  12. It is winter here in southern Australia, and I spend a lot of time inside reading, out of the drizzle. I’m always looking for another mystery writer, as a lot of my favourites have died – grafton, dexter.. I love NYC and can’t get there this year, so read Linda Farsteins books. They’re not that great, but I always learn something about NYC with each read.

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