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Books for the armchair traveller

by Kimberly Coyle

As an insatiable lover of travel, I often find my bank account and my everyday commitments can’t keep pace with my desire to wander. While my chest beats with a gypsy heart, I also have three children, a job, and a geriatric dog who believes movement of any kind should be incentivized. Travel often falls to second place behind the demands of orthodontic bills, folding laundry, and grading papers.

However, as a lifelong reader, I find my wanderlust is temporarily satisfied through the pages of a good book when rooted in a specific place. As a child, I sat in the buggy beside Anne Shirley as we passed through the White Way of Delight on Prince Edward Island, and I braved the unpredictable weather and challenges of farm life in the American Midwest with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Books became the means by which I experienced a world larger than the boundaries of any map or my limited imagination.

After many years spent living abroad and traveling as an adult, I’ve tasted much of what the world has to offer, and it has only fanned the flames of desire. I discovered wanderlust is a love affair possessing an incurable nature. Four years ago, after a number of years spent living in Switzerland, I found myself, once again, deeply rooted in ordinary life in suburban America.

Again, I turned to the stories of writers who create magic with ink and paper. Their words are the buggy, the ticket, the invitation to worlds I may never encounter anywhere but in their experiences or their imagination.

For a few good reads guaranteed to transport you without the cost of airfare, look no further.

From my bookshelf to yours, your invitation to wander through lands near and distant is waiting.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, click the pictures to buy the book on Amazon.co.uk and the title links to buy on Amazon.com

Non-fiction

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr:

Doerr’s work is stunning, and this non-fiction book on his year spent living in Rome as an American ex-pat is beautiful. While I connected personally to his life abroad in Europe, armchair travelers will experience Rome intimately through his prose. This book is the perfect companion to his novel All The Light We Cannot See, another gem of a book with a defined sense of place and belonging.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

This memoir ticks all the boxes: excellent writing, intriguing setting, a journey of faith, romantic literature, and copious literary quotes. (Word nerds: head straight to your local library) Weber lived a life I frequently fantasize about as a PhD candidate in Romantic Literature studying in Oxford, England. Weber brings Oxford to life in a way I wish I could experience personally.

The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich

Readers follow the author on her journey from heartbreak to healing as she leaves behind her life as a filmmaker in California for ranch life in rural Wyoming. Ehrlich finds herself in Wyoming as part of a temporary film project, but after a personal loss, she decides to make Wyoming her home for an indefinite period. Ehrlich chronicles her journey back to love and life, through numbness and grief, against the backdrop of a dry, spacious, empty place. Wyoming’s wide-open physical spaces work like balm for her wounds, and they might work as a balm for readers too.

Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

In her memoir of place, Purifoy recounts the first four seasons she and her family spent living in Maplehurst, a well-loved Victorian farmhouse without the pleasure or pain of an actual farm. She describes home and rootedness in a way that is fresh, poetic, gentle. She writes of the everyday, ordinary circumstances through which God used this home to help her discover where she belongs, and in turn to grow deeper in her belonging to him. As a lover of old homes, wild gardens, and the restoration of broken things, this book holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.

Fiction

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

This classic novel is the coming of age tale of a girl called Francie, set in the immigrant communities of Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. I’m always surprised at the timeless nature of stories, and this book is no exception. I saw myself in Francie, despite the time and life circumstances that separate us. It also gave me a renewed appreciation for the challenges faced by immigrants coming to America, as it paints a unique portrait of life in the tenements of New York City.

Gilead by Marilyn Robinson

Gilead is the story of minister John Ames’ journey to his eternal home as he looks back over the past seventy-six years of his life in Gilead. The town of Gilead is itself a character in Robinson’s book, and as I read, it became as real to me as any home I’ve known. I journeyed with Ames from Iowa to Kansas, from childhood to old age, and back again. While the book is epistoliary in nature, Robinson creates distinct descriptive scenes within the journal itself, allowing readers a glimpse into the rural landscape of her characters’ lives. This is a book to savor.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This epic tale of the Price family, new missionaries to the Belgian Congo in the 1960’s, is both cautionary and redemptive. Readers travel beside the Prices as they attempt to transition to primitive life in the Congo from a sheltered life in small town America. Told from the perspective of the women in the family, we see postcolonial Africa in all of its danger and complexity. Kingsolver’s book is one of my top five favorites of all time. Unforgettable.

Kimberly Coyle

Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of writing with an MFA in creative non-fiction. She has written for publications such as In Touch Magazine, Fathom Magazine, (in)courage, and Grace Table. When not writing or teaching, she dabbles in photography and can be found on Instagram as @kacoyle.

She writes regularly online at www.kimberlyanncoyle.com