I read something online not long ago that said something along these lines: “Isn’t it amazing that we can trace ink in a specific pattern on mashed up bits of trees with our eyes, and hallucinate wildly for hours on end.” Truly a remarkable comment- and it made me think of all of the wonderful places I’d been and seen, cultures I was thrust into and minds I have occupied merely from reading books.
So, in light of the theme this fortnight (travel), I’m going to talk about the books I’ve read that have really drummed into me a feeling of a place, helped me feel the essence of travelling, or is just a book about travel which I really enjoyed (so hopefully you will, too).
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Perhaps too obvious, but what the hell, it’s still a damn fine book if you ask me. This doesn’t excel mainly in its depiction of the time that Jack Kerouac lived, its main accomplishment, in my opinion, is the way it perfectly captures the flow and speed and excitement of travelling. Kerouac wrote the whole novel, which documents his (Under the pseudonym Sal Paradise) travels around 1950’s America with his buddy Dean, (who is Neal Cassidy). He wrote the whole thing in one long scroll in his typewriter, in a technique he called “spontaneous prose.” Writing feverously and almost frantically, he produced the fluid poetry that the book consists of by literally not stopping to think of what he was writing until after he’d written the whole book. There are barely any paragraph breaks at all and it really helps reflect the energy of what he’s writing. This book is essential, but try not to read it unless you’re close to summer, or you will get some seriously itchy feet.
Journey to the East, Hermann Hesse
This book is about a fantastical journey of members of a shadowy league throughout the world. Strange and beautiful, the protagonist meets Don Quixote, Mozart and others, and has a dream-like quality to it, unlike any other book I’ve read. Hesse has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of almost everything, and he seems to have some kind of insight into the meaning of everything- which is what the journey in the book is in search of- because the way he writes is at once complex and allegorical, but also simple and pure. I think in this book Hesse captures perfectly the meaning of travel, and why it is people are driven to do so.