Reading a book set in the place you’re visiting can enhance your enjoyment of both the trip and the book significantly. The frisson of reading about somewhere and then seeing it for yourself, combined with the information and insight that can be gleaned from reading up on a place, are all reasons to make the extra effort to put books in your backpack that will complement your travels.
Below are just five books that can educate and entertain in equal measure when you’re making your way around Europe:
1. A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
“I have a theory that there is something in the Italian landscape which inclines even the most stolid nature to romance.”
This 1908 novel takes a repressed young Edwardian Englishwoman, Lucy, and sets all the passions and beauty of the Italian landscape loose on her in a tale that is all at once a love story, a critique of English society, and an ode to Tuscany itself. It’s well worth reading no matter where you’re going in Italy – but if you’re going to Florence specifically, then it’s a must. You can even take a day trip to Fiesole and search for your very own field of violets…
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“She had never seen a place where nature had done more.”
To be honest any Jane Austen would suffice, but Pride and Prejudice is ideal if you plan to escape the cities and take advantage of the beautiful English countryside and all it has to offer. Pride and Prejudice is especially apt if you travel north to the Peak District – the national park where Lizzie and her aunt and uncle go on a walking holiday, and home to the fictional Pemberley, Darcy’s estate in Derbyshire. This is in fact the area I hail from – it’s lovely hiking, but try to go in the summer, as this is the best shot you’ll have at it not raining. If you’re in the area you can visit real-life Pemberley Chatsworth House, and Lyme Park – home to that infamous lake (my friends and I used to have an annual tea party picnic there dressed up as Victorians. Yeah, there’s not much for teens to do in Derbyshire). And if hill walking doesn’t take your fancy, there’s always the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.
3. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
“All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages.”
Whether you’re on the real Orient Express (a girl can dream) or just InterRailing, Murder on the Orient Express is an ideal read for anyone travelling Europe by train. Join Hercule Poirot, Belgium’s most famous detective, as he solves a seemingly impossible murder trapped in a snowdrift on one of Europe’s most iconic railway journeys. Of course your own train journey is unlikely to be as exciting – but then that’s probably for the best.
4. Ulysses by James Joyce
“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
It might be 265,000 words long, but if you’re going to the UNESCO City of Literature you might as well challenge yourself. This modernist masterpiece gives the reader an insight into the stream-of-consciousness of Leopold Bloom, an average Dubliner going about his business in the city on 16th June 1904. Fangirls in Dublin will find no shortage of ways to celebrate the author, from tracing Leopold’s footsteps, attending a reading at Sweny’s (immortalised in Ulysses as “the worst Pharmacy in the city” and now a bookshop dedicated to all things Joycian), indulging in a literary pub crawl, to timing your visit with 16th June for the citywide Bloomsday Festival.
5. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
If the bohemian Paris of the 1920s appeals to you then A Moveable Feast is the memoir for you. Hemingway transports us back to the Left Bank in its heyday – when he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and all the great expatriated artists of the Left Bank. Many of the places he describes can still be visited today, including the infamous Shakespeare & Co, which continues to attract wayward writers from around the globe.
Do you agree with our selection? Think we’ve made a terrible mistake? Have any other recommendations? Share your thoughts below.