Places I've Been Through Books I've Read

shelved under Bloggers' Picks and Travel & Places

I'm a busy woman, who travels a lot as part of her busy workload as an educational specialist, and whose goal is to write fiction. I've lived in 3 different countries and my family is scattered across Europe.

With that in mind, I've compiled a list of books that I've read in the last year, on the move, on trains, in hotel rooms, during holidays. This, therefore, is an armchair traveler’s list of countries I've visited through my reading.


Austerlitz (Europe)

by Winfried Georg Sebald

This is a book that needs perseverance in the beginning and then suddenly it all comes together, you cannot put it down. The story unfolds behind a layer of stories about places: Wales, Belgium, Eastern European countries, Germany, London, and about people and the repression of memories too painful to live with. Again, the book does not try and offer resolutions, there’s no happy ending here either, just life as it is in all its tragedy — it’s magnificent writing and the atmosphere and characters are beautifully evoked.


Disgrace (South Africa)

by J. M. Coetzee

This is the story of David, a professor of literature, and his relationship with his daughter and those living in the world around him in South Africa as they are caught up in a political maelstrom. The author uses South Africa as the background to say something more universal, about growing old, acceptance and about coming to terms with the human condition. There are very few happy endings, but we realize that in real life, there probably are not either.


Breath (Australia)

by Tim Winton

I was really surprised that this book did not enter even the long list of the Booker Prize, but then I have not yet read all the books on that list. Once you start reading, it is literally breathtaking and you cannot put it down. The story takes us to Australia and it's about a teenager growing up in a small town and who develops a passion for surfing. But it’s about much more than that, it’s about growing up and about taking decisions and doing things that are on the fringe. Fear is palpable through the very restrained and at times icy use of language.


After Dark (Japan)

by Haruki Murakami

This is a story that is set in Japan, and it is like reading a film, I said in my blog review of this book, as mesmerizing and compulsive and you must not interrupt the flow, must not move away in fear of missing the next scene. Murakami’s stories are surreal, as we move from screen to screen in this one. It’s a must-read for anyone who appreciates subtle writing.


Crime and Punishment (Russia)

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This list needs a Russian author and setting and who better than Dostoyevsky and what book better than "Crime and Punishment"? I reread this book on the beach last summer and felt as enthralled by it as the first time round. There are different views on this book, ranging from "It nearly finished me. It was like having an illness" (Robert Louis Stevenson, in admiration) to Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times, who dismisses the book as so much hysteria and hallucination. I loved it again, especially the mood swings and the writer’s craft to evoke these fantastic scenes of poverty and degeneration in St. Petersburg, and uses these as the background for a fantastic literary detective story.


Netherland (The Netherlands)

by Joseph O'Neill

This book of course did make it to the long list of the Booker. I’ve got to include this not only because the main character is Dutch (as I am), but because it is a book so well written and full of unease and questioning about where one lives or belongs. The story is mainly set in New York and England, although there is a wonderful evocation of the main character skating along the empty canals, as I have done, away from school. There's a question throughout about what and who we are, when we so dislocate ourselves. The title is a clever play on The Netherlands and at the same time evokes the underworld, unknown existences that people lead when dislocated. The setting is New York, cricket, immigrant communities, and a failing marriage. It’s a great book.


The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (England)

by Margaret Atwood

I’ve also been reading myths, and recommend this and the following two books. All are set in present-day England, but with a Greek (myth) twist.


Gods Behaving Badly (England)

by Marie Phillips

Lynette Mattke from Silver Spring, MD says:

I read this a while ago and when I came across it on this list, I chuckled out loud. It is a zany, irreverent account of the bickering deities. The gods are too proud and stubborn to adjust to the (modern) times and the result is comical. Overall, an interesting story. If you liked High Fidelity, you'll probably like this book, too.


How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide

by John Sutherland

Finally, I love reading and if you need advice on how to read, then I recommend this book. The author has some lovely suggestions about the use of "voice" and how the acoustic matters in fiction (the language, the intonation, the dialects). A great book for book lovers.


Actually, there are so many books to recommend, under so many different headings. If you enjoyed this list I encourage you to come visit me at my personal blog, 51 Stories, where I regularly review books.