Narrowly avoiding the Black Death in Syria, we have in the Muslim writer Ibn Battuta, author of “Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354,” one of the ancient world’s finest chroniclers. While it’s unlikely that most of us, hobbled by suspended air travel and closed borders, will soon be venturing as far as the writer from Morocco, who journeyed to China, the Malabar Coast, Mali and Andalusia, I like to think that our future itineraries are deferred, rather than canceled, pleasures.
It seems as if I’ve spent my whole life traveling, in either corporeal form, or in the mind. Can books, one of the best ways to travel vicariously, change our lives or at least reset their courses? I believe they can. As a schoolboy, that happened when I picked up a copy of poet Laurie Lee’s “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning” (1969), an account of the youthful author’s journey on foot from his Cotswolds village to Spain, in the months before outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The year after reading this title, I hitchhiked during the summer vacation, from London to what was then called Yugoslavia.
Many of our best journeys begin on the page. And there really is no limit to the number of recommendable books in the travel genre. A good place to start is with the work of Dervla Murphy, an Irish woman whose first book, “Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle” (1965), retells her journey by bicycle from Dunkirk to Delhi.