As the whole world comes to a standstill, never was there such a burning need to delve back into travel books and dream en masse, perhaps of the next–post-coronavirus–destination. Currently we are all, whether we like it or not, armchair travelers. Including those of us who love to travel–and that means at least 1 billion people who did so in 2019.
While we can’t travel, far, we can travel with the mind. A book is a ready-made adventure–a discovery–which is why I think reading helps to appease our travel itch-frenzied souls right now. The thing about a “bookcation”, is that it can get as adventurous–and go on for as long–as the book you pick up.
Even for those who travel little, or not at all, a book allows them to wander free. As one Twitter user noted this week: “For me the most fulfilling thing about reading books is the escapism it brings. Getting lost and immersed in a completely different world to mine. A world that I’ll probably never get to travel to. Yet books can afford me that absolute experience.”
Across the ages, books quite simply have always been one of the best forms of escapism. Their subject range and literary flirtations take us to places which only our imaginations can go. With almost everywhere in the world currently out of bounds, we need that more than ever.
“You can travel anywhere any time through a good book,” tweeted another at home bibliophile. Let’s face it, there are far worse things you could find yourself in lockdown with, than a book.
Going by all the stories I am seeing on travel books and armchair travel, we are collectively having trouble not traveling, for we are at heart migratory souls. So we have itchy feet–and our therapy (or at least one of them), is books.
Rick Steves noted it too in a recent blog, how a “daily dose of travel dreaming can be a good medicine” for the home blues. While on Instagram, English travel editor Catherine Fairweather proposed a soak in a bath and flit through Montaigne’s 1570s Essays as “a good immunity and morale booster”.
The Renaissance philosopher was a great champion of the cultural enrichment that comes from travel, and would be shocked at the borders he would come up against in today’s corona-crisis Europe.
“Traveling through the world produces a marvelous clarity in the judgment of men,” he wrote. “We are all of us confined and enclosed within ourselves, and see no farther than the end of our nose.” Ironically, never have we felt this so acutely, than while enduring home confinement.
For many of us wanderlusters, travel literature (as books in general for bibliophiles), counts as our best mates right now. Comforting, insightful, escapist, liberating and fanciful. More fanciful than ever compared to our current stationery ways.
As France-based writer Anthony Peregrine wrote in an article for The Times: “I don’t generally look to travel books for inspiration,” but given most trips right now are no longer than “up the garden path”, then more than usual, “I’m looking to travel books not so much for inspiration as for companionship.”
That sense of intimacy and connection with the world that travelers are no doubt sorely lacking, can be found in books. Of course the wanderer in lockdown can also continue to roam, much closer to home. As Paul Theroux argues in his “Wanderer’s Guide to Staying Home” for the Wall Street Journal. There is many a book he writes that promotes the virtues of the kind of extreme version of staycation we are currently being subjected to.
… There’s another important aspect to all of this. As people get concerned about the outlook for the book business, as a result of government-mandated shutdowns, a whole flood of bibliophile goodwill has started circulating.
Book lovers have united in all manner of ways, to remind people to keep buying books. And the travel word is omnipresent.
St. Augustine supposedly said in the 4th century: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” But you can also read many pages of a book and travel to places you may never go. Particularly now. And the imaginings will only come to those who pick up a book.