Travelling the world with books

With books, one can cross continents and historical time frames

Published - January 29, 2023 01:56 am IST

Books always provide solace and comfort in the best and worst of times. 

Books always provide solace and comfort in the best and worst of times.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In a bid to get back to reading when the first COVID-lockdown was imposed almost three years ago, I participated in an online exchange of books with complete strangers. Over the course of a month, I ended up receiving more than a dozen books from all parts of India, but the most fascinating was an English translation of a thriller by Japanese writer Keigo Higashino. Starting it with a lot of trepidation, I soon found myself completely absorbed in the Japanese culture, the Tokyo bento boxes, and the lovely culture of bicycles in Japan. This book, The Devotion of Suspect X, turned out to be the first on a long list of international books that I would go on to devour.

Like most bibliophiles in India, I have vivid memories of reading Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, and Ruskin Bond in my childhood and teenage. Growing up, I fell in love with the graceful storytelling of Jeffrey Archer, Ken Follet’s brilliant synthesis of history and fiction, and Robert Ludlum’s thrilling accounts of espionage. Over time, in a bid to be more productive, reading for pleasure took a back seat, and I found myself drawn more towards books on history, management, investment strategies, and self-improvement. However, picking up the Japanese thriller (that has also inspired a Malayalam film along with its Hindi remake), I discovered a whole new world, that too at a time when an unseen virus had rendered even stepping out of the house impossible, let alone gallivanting around the world.

Almost immediately after this, by sheer coincidence, Shashi Tharoor listed out 10 recommendations to read during the lockdown, and I picked up one of his recommendations by a Swedish writer. I fell off my chair a gazillion times while reading the stupendously hilarious The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, in which the protagonist finds himself in unbelievable situations across Sweden, Spain, the U.S., China, Iran, Russia, Korea, Indonesia, and France. Continuing with another Swedish writer, I found my worries reduced to nothingness with Frederick Backman’s Anxious People, which is also available as a web-series on Netflix. I returned to Japan with Before the Coffee Gets Cold, a beautiful, heart-warming series of books about time travel against the backdrop of Tokyo’s envious coffee culture. This brought back very fond memories of similar stories that I had read in my Hindi textbook in school. Last, but by no means the least, I managed to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez on my second attempt, reliving the beautiful memories I brought back when I visited Colombia.

Books have always provided me solace and comfort in the best and worst of times. With books, I have been able to travel not just across continents and historical time frames but also across galaxies at times. Though I could only read these Japanese and Swedish books’ translations, my horizons and knowledge were vastly expanded. I found myself revelling in the local customs and culture, and enjoying their quirks. On the flip side, however, my wallet might find itself screaming at me, with Sweden, Japan, and several other countries now finding themselves on my travel list. While I save up for that, I am consoling myself with some more literary adventures, and my bookshelf has a neat row of books by many more international writers just waiting to be unpacked. No visas needed for these!

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