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Arts + Culture

12 Destination-Inspired Books to Add to Your Reading List

Good books have the power to transport us to a different time and place, their intricate plot lines and descriptive settings helping set the scene. Itching to travel from the comfort of your couch? Crack open one of these 12 books—must-reads before your next trip.

Senior Editor, Jetsetter | @lindseytravels |

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NYC: Bright Lights Big City, by Jay McInerney

A young Manhattan writer races from editorial office hours by day to nightclubs, fashion shows, and loft parties by night in a mad dash to drown out depression, loneliness, and serious FOMO. Bright Lights, Big City, notably written in the second person (i.e. you), is a visceral bestseller about the pace life can take in a sleepless city, and was, for the 1984, way ahead of its time.

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U.S. Road Trip: On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac’s love for his homeland shines in this adventurous tale of two friends driving cross-country in an aimless search for the real America. On the Road has become the voice of the beat generation and a quintessential tale of freedom and ambition.

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Australia: In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson

In this energetic travelogue, a follow-up to his national bestseller (and first travel compendium) A Walk in the Woods, journalist and humorist Bill Bryson takes us storyteller-style through three subsequent trips through Australia as he bounces between Melbourne, the Outback, and the Gold Coast. Along with fact-filled anecdotes on the continent’s history and geography, there’s also wit and wonder in the way he describes “the most dangerous place on earth” and the beauty he finds between candid encounters with locals and wildlife both adorable and lethal.

RELATED: The Best Places to Visit in Australia—Beyond Sydney

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South Africa: Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

You won’t get as much out of your visit to South Africa (or Africa, for that matter) without having read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Chronicling the South African president’s life from childhood through his 27-year prison sentence during apartheid, it is a compelling story about the life of one of the world’s greatest leaders in his fight—both personal and national—against racial oppression.

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Alaska: Call of the Wild / White Fang, by Jack London

These two seminal novels, which explore what it takes for both man and dog to survive in the natural world, earned writer Jack London a place among America’s literary greats. Despite both taking place in the Yukon, a mountainous Canadian region east of the Alaskan border, the stories’ settings could stand in for any plot taking place in the brutal, unforgiving north.

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Latin America: Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

In 1952, 23-year-old medical student Ernesto “Che” Guevara hopped on a motorized bicycle with a friend and embarked on a nine-month, 3,000-mile, mostly improvised odyssey through South America. Along with reflections on Latin America’s complex history, this personal diary recounts that adventure of a lifetime during which the future Marxist found his voice in preparation for his role in the Cuban Revolution.

RELATED: 10 Incredible National Parks in South America to Add to Your Wish List

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Barcelona: The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

It’s 1945, just after the Spanish Civil War, and somewhere in Barcelona an antique book dealer’s son falls in love with a rare book. His subsequent search for its obscure author—and whoever has been burning all other copies of the novel—attracts all amounts of odd and menacing characters out to keep our protagonist from the truth. It’s a page-turning ode to reading and obsession that speaks to anyone who has ever fallen under a story’s spell.

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Paris: A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

During the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway spent his 20s as an expatriate in Paris—a rare happy time in his life now immortalized in this memoir, finished a year before his death. While many famous friends float in and out of the timeline (F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce among them, but mostly Hemingway’s first wife Hadley), it is his descriptions of Paris—its cafés, streets, the Seine—that captivate and enthrall.

RELATED: 25 Places in Paris to Check Off Your List

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Sweden: Millennium Series, by Stieg Larsson

Perhaps because of Sweden’s isolated island geography and endlessly dark winters, crime fiction is one of the country’s biggest genres. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series begins with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a psychological thriller that follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist and punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander as they work to solve a brutal murder mystery case linked to a powerful family. Much of the story takes place in Södermalm, a bohemian neighborhood in Stockholm where the late author himself also lived.

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Ireland: Dubliners, by James Joyce

You’ll get a vivid, unapologetic glimpse of 1900s Dublin in this definitive short story collection from celebrated Irish author James Joyce. His prose deftly captures local accents and character quirks while exploring national identity through the perspectives of both childhood and maturity.

RELATED: 5 Cities in Ireland You Must Visit

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Mumbai: Maximum City, by Suketu Mehta

A thick but well-written portrait of the Indian “megalopolis”—and all its highs and lows and glamour and grit—from native turned New York film and fiction writer Suketu Mehta. During the research phase, Mehta returned to his homeland for two years to study Mumbai’s wealthy, leafy districts as well as its criminal corners, making friends with cops, gangsters, Bollywood stars, and poets along the way.

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Japan: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden

Informed by actual interviews, this deeply evocative and utterly enchanting novel follows a Japanese woman’s transformation from peasant girl into one of the most successful geishas of her time. At its core is a tragic love story spanning two decades of Japanese history, but Memoirs also peels back the blinds on an ancient (and often mysterious) culture of status and seduction.

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