The Book is the Destination

I’ve discovered my newest favorite thing to do when I travel: Read a book that takes place in the destination. Forget travel guides totally and just bring a book (actually don’t forget the travel guides… this idea makes my Type A tendencies very, very nervous).

As literary lovers, we have the vivid imaginations that bring fictional worlds to live in our mind. I was lucky to travel for a week to Dublin where my company is headquartered. Dublin has a rich literary history, between James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats, just to name a few. (In fact, we stayed right across from Oscar Wilde’s house and his rather flamboyant statue!)

oscar wilde statue

I decided to go another route, and be trendy and take my cue from this recent Academy Awards series. As a native New Yorker, I was fortunate to pick up Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, which takes place in both Ireland and New York City.

I started reading it on the flight there, getting hyped about my visit. The historical aspect added another layer of interest. I could walk around the city and try to imagine what it was like in the Post-World War II era of Ireland.

Even coming back to New York, since the book also took place here, I tried to picture what it was like for Eilis Lacey, the young woman who braves the Atlantic by herself like so many immigrants did.

It was fascinating and made me notice things much more. I think this is a literary strategy I will keep in mind for whenever I travel!

How to find books about where you’re visiting?

Pretty simple—you can look up the famous authors who lived in your destination. For Japan, Haruki Murakami is often considered the Japanese contemporary author. Of course, you could go for a natively written form, like haiku of early Japanese poets like Matsuo Bashō.

trinity college library

Trinity College’s library! This would be a great place to find a book, if we were allowed to touch them…

You might have a hard time finding a book that takes place in a particular tiny village, but broadening the scope to gain knowledge about the general culture as I did with Brooklyn is equally valuable. Goodreads is another great source for this. Their lists can be as granular as they are numerous. Their whole cultural section can be found here.

And you don’t have to leave your genre either. If you’re really into thrilling action books with a mystery and visiting Italy, well, Dan Brown’s books are pretty perfect.

As for my city, well, there are countless books that take place in New York. It’d be harder to find a book that doesn’t take place here, I think! It’s worth taking the time and keeping your inner bookworm happy as you travel.

What do you think? Have you ever picked up a fiction book about the place you were traveling to?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

St. Patrick’s Day Reads

Gather your four leaf clovers, pots of gold, and shillelagh sticks, for it’s time for St. Patrick’s Day and a celebration of all that is Irish. Us Americans are completely enthralled with the holiday (or just the excuse to drink and drink, a fine testament to the Irish legacy). Luckily, there are plenty of books out there to get you ready to gallivant to Ireland, kiss the Blarney Stone, and tumble down the green countrysides.

Check out this list to get you in the mood to wear all green!

dublinersPretty much anything written by James Joyce
Whether it’s Dubliners, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce keenly illustrated Ireland as his characters’ stomping grounds. And, if you ever visit Dublin, they have the places from his books commemorated with plaques throughout the city. There’s also the annual Bloomsday celebration in honor of the author’s life! The day has a plethora of Ulysses readings, people in Edwardian costume, and of course, pub crawls.

psiloveyouPS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
Dubliners Holly and Gerry are the perfect couple. Holly can’t imagine life without Gerry, until he dies of a terminal illness. A widow at 30, Holly is despondent, until she finds a series of letters Gerry left her. The letters take her on a path back in time through their courtship and relationship, and also forward as Holly too must move forward with her life. Plus, it’s also a loosely-adapted movie with the dreamy Gerard Butler.

inthewoodsThe Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
A mystery series backdropped against Dublin, where a team must piece together the grittiest and most nebulous of crimes. The first book, In the Woods, is full of psychological mind-benders and twists. Detective Ryan and Maddox are strung along on this crazy ride and you’ll be holding your breath as they try to uncover what really happened. 

brooklyncolmBrooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Perfect for those with Irish ancestry, Brooklyn explores the life of a young women leaving life behind in Ireland for America. In early 1950s Brooklyn, where Eilis Lacey must forge a new life, putting an ocean between her and her family and everything she’s ever known. She works hard in a department store, falls in love, and manages to find a new life. But there comes news from Ireland that threatens to destroy everything. 

artemisfowlArtemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
Okay, so this is a fantasy/sci-fi series. But it still takes place in Ireland! Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is clever enough to take over the world. He decides to steal a fairy to hold for ransom, but he gets more then he bargained for when the fairy ends up being Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. Shenanigans, mischief, and madness ensue, and Artemis Fowl has to hold tight to his wits to be able to catch up. 

How will you be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Are there any books that put you in the Irish spirit?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Five Books To Make You More Irish

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! FINALLY. Like a true Irish woman cursed with very non-Irish features, this holiday makes me yearn for fiery red hair and freckles and to be named Kelly or Siobhan or something. And if you call it St. Patty’s day, like the meat on a hamburger, you’re just WRONG.

In celebration of the greatest holiday to cross the pond and work its way into plastic Paddy pubs across the states, here’s a list of the top books you can read to make you wholly more Irish. Because b’garra, we could all stand to have a wee more green in our lives.

5 – Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola

Let’s start off easy, shall we? This is a children’s book. Even still, it’s a good telling of St. Patrick’s story, the truth about how he became a Saint, and the legends we all know surrounding him. And all the awful things that happened to him over the course of his life seem less awful, because there are pictures! If you wanna drop some knowledge on the wanna-be Paddys you come across during the month of March, this is the easiest way to do it.

FYI, St. Patrick did not banish any snakes from Ireland. Sorry to blow up your spot, man.

4 – The Best Irish Drinks by Ray Foley

Listen, facts are facts – Irish people love a pint. Or six. And we know a lot about our pints. And we take immense pleasure looking down on people who know less than we do about the industry, history and standards of a good brew. We don’t really want to have a lengthy discussion about merits and methods with someone as equally informed as we are. We just want you to know we’re better than you.

So although this book may be a little more than the quick overview you were looking for, read it, learn something, shut up and drink your beer.

3 – A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

If you didn’t read this in your youth, well, Oprah loved it so you should too. It’s not about people of the Emerald Isle, as you may have guessed by the title. It tells a story of an Irish-American family in New York, struggling to survive in a generation of emigration. Specifically in Brooklyn, literally around the corner from where I currently live.

In terms of being historically significant, this is for the chick who wears her Claddagh ring when it matches her outfit and only lays claim to her 1/8th Irish heritage on March 17th. But we don’t judge her, because it’s still a really fantastic book. As George Carlin once said, “Being Irish isn’t a skill, it’s a f**king genetic accident… I’m Irish, but I’m not particularly proud of it. Just glad! Goddamn glad to be Irish!”

2 – A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Irish people have a sick sense of humor. I know, because I think this piece is hysterical.

The full title of this seemingly erudite essay is, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.” Spoiler Alert: It’s 1729, and Swift tells poor starving Irish people who have too many children to sell their kids to richer people. As food. BOOM, economy solved, where’s my statue?

It’s ridiculous, sociopathic and ludicrously funny all at once. There’s no denying the language is old; it was published in the 16th century. But it’s amusing the whole way through, and that is why SparkNotes was created. It’s only about six pages long and if you can make it to the end, your insight into Irish humor will be vastly expanded. It’ll be like you came to a Whitehead family gathering and survived.

1 – Ulysses by James Joyce

Of course it’s Ulysses. I mean please. Who didn’t see that one coming? It’s touted not just as a great piece of Irish literature, but possibly the most brilliant work of fiction ever penned. Seriously, they referenced it in Iron Man 2.

In reality though, no decent Irishman can take time out of their busy schedule of drinking beer and starting bar fights to tackle such a project. Seeing as people across the globe celebrate June 16th as Bloomsday, the day that James Joyce first went out with his wife-to-be, we give credit where credit is due. But for the rest of you underachieving bibliophiles, we forgive you for not adding this episodic endeavor to your bucket list.

Honorable Mentions

For some actual knowledge and info on a crucial moment in Irish history, you can give “The Easter Proclamation,” a whirl. Also known as “The Proclamation of the Irish Republic,” it’s Ireland’s own version of The Declaration of Independence but like, 200 years after we did it.

Kim “Spike The Punch” Whitehead is the coordinator of social media at a small PR firm, where she spends her days perfecting the art of procrastination. You can check out some of her sporadic stories at My Life After Purchase.