What you read while you’re traveling can have a big impact on how you perceive the place you’re visiting.
I didn’t read nearly as much as I would have liked during my 10 months in New Zealand. Considering I spent a total of 6 months in one place, I really could have read a lot more. Actually, I ended up reading more when I was moving around and staying in hostels than I did when I was sat still with a job and my own place.
I read quite a few good books during my time in New Zealand so I wanted to share some of those with you guys. I love reading when traveling, and reading about traveling, so I’m planning to write a lot more about books here in the future.
Here are the 8 books I read while in New Zealand and what I thought about them.
Book: The Best American Travel Writing 2012 edited by William T. Vollman
Where: On the plane to New Zealand, March 2016
Thoughts: This is one of the books I brought from my ever-growing book collection at home. 24 hours of travel to get from St. Louis to Auckland seemed like the perfect time to read this one. I managed to read the entire book (minus a couple of not-so-interesting stories) on the plane and while waiting around in airports.
Best American Travel Writing is a yearly anthology of travel stories, essays, and articles that have been published throughout the year. I love this series and I’m trying to read as many as possible. It’s a habit I’m getting into as a freelance writer (read the best in your genre, you know). There are also Best American series for all genres of writing (outdoor writing, science writing, etc.). I recommend picking up any of these anthologies.
Get your copy here: The Best American Travel Writing 2012
Book: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Where: Hot Water Beach, April/May 2016
Thoughts: I was living in Seattle when the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon) was released. I hadn’t heard anything about it and I had never heard of the book. People were talking about it though. All I could tell was that it was about a woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone, dealing with past trauma along the way. That is exactly what it’s about. I’ve been wanting to see the movie since it came out, but I knew I didn’t want to see the movie until I had read the book. I have a thing about that.
It took me forever to actually get around to reading Wild, but I don’t like buying brand new books, and I could never find it at a used bookstore. My family gave it to me as a Christmas present, and bringing it with me to read in New Zealand seemed appropriate. I read Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis last fall. It’s a similar book in set-up and I recommend both books.
Get your copy here: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Book: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Where: On the Road, June 2016
Thoughts: This is one of those books I’ve always heard the outdoorsy/adventurous type of person mention as being some sort of…manifesto, or something. Something about being taken back to nature, back to primordial instincts, back to survival mode. I personally was not impressed, but then again, I don’t feel like we as humans need to regress in order to live better lives.
I know Call of the Wild is a “classic”, but I just didn’t like it. And the above is based on what others tells me they like about the story. Nothing about it caught my interest.
Get your copy here: The Call of the Wild
Book: The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Where: On the Road, June/July 2016
Thoughts: I attempted to read one of Theroux’s books years ago. He was always on the list of great travel authors. For some reason I couldn’t get very far into whichever book of his I was reading (I can’t remember which one). I stumbled across a copy of The Great Railway Bazaar in a used bookstore in Rotorua and immediately grabbed it. I started it on the road but read the bulk of it while I was hostel-sitting in Picton. I flew through it and enjoyed it immensely.
I’ve had a romantic fascination with train travel in the last few years, which is most likely due to literature such as, and inspired by, Paul Theroux’s. One of the few major things on my New Zealand bucket list was to travel on Kiwi Scenic Rail. I did end up traveling on the Northern Explorer. I’m now fully obsessed with traveling by train.
Get your copy here: The Great Railway Bazaar
Book: The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton
Where: Wellington, July 2016
Thoughts: I first heard of The Art of Travel quite some time ago. It’s a book about the philosophy of traveling, attempting to answer questions about why we travel, how we travel, and why we want to see the world. I finished the book in just a couple of days. Most of it as read in my hostel in Wellington. I then read it for a second time the day after finishing it while on a 9-hour bus ride from Wellington to Tauranga.
The two parts that sparked the most thought for me were the chapters On Anticipation and On Possessing Beauty. I’m not the type to write in books, but I did a lot of marking on my second read to highlight thoughts that will become future prompts for my own writings. It is incredibly interesting as someone who travels and as someone who writes about travel.
I see myself revisiting this book many times in the future and I would certainly recommend it to other travelers out there.
Get your copy here: The Art of Travel
Book: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Where: Hot Water Beach, August-November 2016
Thoughts: I was quite ambitious when I picked up a copy of The Luminaries at a Whitcoull’s in Tauranga. I needed a book to get me through my four months at Hot Water Beach, and I thought this 800-page book would be a nice challenge. I never read fiction anymore, and this seemed like the book to get me back into it. I can only laugh now…
The story takes place in the late 19th century, on the western coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I really wanted to read something about New Zealand, so that’s what drew me to it. A basic summary of the plot: goldrush-era New Zealand, opium, a prostitute turns up almost dead, someone else dies, a ship was stolen?, and a bunch of men gather in secret to discuss the goings-on of the town to try and figure out what exactly is happening.
I made it through 400 pages and that’s all I can tell you about the book. It was dense, which the bookseller warned me about. There are so many characters and so many little stories in the beginning—it’s hard to keep up with. I assume that if I had continued reading, it would have all started to come together. I gave up, though.
I liked the story and it as intriguing. I just found that I wasn’t enjoying my time reading it. It felt like homework. If you enjoy complicated plots, I’d recommend giving The Luminaries a try. It received a lot of recognition, so it’s definitely a “good” book if you are committed to getting through it.
Get your copy here: The Luminaries
Book: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux
Where: On the Road, December 2016
Thoughts: Since I enjoyed The Great Railway Bazaar so much, I decided to read Ghost train to the Eastern Star too. In it, Paul Theroux takes the same train route as he did in his former book, but thirty-odd years later. He revisits places he hadn’t seen since the 1970’s and writes about all of the changes he personally witnessed.
I thought the two books might be too similar to be interesting when read so close together, but I found they ultimately focused on different people, places, and stories. I’m excited to read more of Theroux’s work in the future.
Get your copy here: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar
Book: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Where: New Zealand to the USA
Thoughts: I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt years and years ago. It stuck with me as one of my favorite novels. When she finally released another book in 2013, I couldn’t wait to get my hands it. I kept meaning to read it, yet somehow I never did until now. It was another case of wanting to wait until I found a used version (of a brand new book), but since it wasn’t happening after three years, I finally just bought a new one. I read it on my final days in New Zealand, on the plane back to the States, and during the first couple of months at home.
Donna Tartt is an amazing novelist. Her stories are rich with detail—not just basic detail, but intricate, well-researched detail. I’m happy to find that The Goldfinch is no different. It’s about a young boy who comes into possession of a world-famous painting after surviving a terrorist attack in a NYC art museum. He keeps it close to him throughout his young life as he deals with losing his parent and an old friend, drug abuse, returning to New York, etc.
Tartt’s ability to bring the story to life through the specific details about art, antiques, and New York society is what makes the story so intriguing. Even at 800-plus pages, you still want more.
Get your copy here: The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
I think this list is a pretty good representation of what I like to read. Most of what I read is non-fiction. I like reading about travel, or anything with a strong focus on place or the outdoors. Essays, memoirs, and personal narratives are my bread-and-butter. However, I do like to throw in something a little different now and then. I’ll pick up a novel when it really intrigues me, and short stories are good for short spurts of entertainment.
Leave a comment and let me know what you like to read when traveling.
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