Reading on the Road

Book swaps in South East Asia
There are countless second-hand bookshops and book swaps in guest houses and restaurants all over SE Asia, which is a brilliant way of exchanging your old books for some new (albeit used!) ones – so there’s no need to take more than a book or two with you when setting off on your travels! Guide books are still pricey, even in the most dusty alleyway book store.

We were lucky enough to find some real classics in amongst the hundreds of chick-lit, sci-fi and detective stories but you do have to shop around to get a good selection and a good price. Usually it’ll cost you only a couple of dollars, depending on what you’re swapping.

Street Hawkers
In many cities in SE Asia the books come to you – find a pavement cafe and within minutes you’ll have the opportunity to buy all sorts of items, pushed at you by the street hawkers. Children are used for this purpose but 99% of them are not on the streets but simply pushed into it by the adults. We bought a few books this way – the books are bootleg versions of the originals (lower quality paper, black and white maps instead of colour) but for the price (a couple of dollars) is a good result. Minutes after selling us two books for $6, our poor-looking 10 year old boy whipped out a shiny new mobile phone!

Books we’ve picked up
Below is a quick review of the books we have read so far, together with why they have resonated with us as travellers…

  • Papillion – Henri Charrière

    In one line: An unfairly imprisoned man’s dedication to escape from an inhumane island prison and his extraordinary travels and adventures on the occasions he breaks free (based on a true story)

    Travel passion: This is an inspirational story as this fundamentally decent and proper man repeatedly breaks free from his captors and then travels around Northern coast of South America in makeshift vessels, meeting incredible people and integrating into diverse communities along the way.

    Recommended: Highly! As you read the final page you’re compelled to start reading the book again

  • Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

    In one line: Final part of epic trilogy following heroine computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, as she battles against her worst demons, including her family and a corrupt secret service.

    Travel passion: Not much to inspire travel in the book except around Sweden but worth picking up as it’s seemingly available in every bookshelf (in SE Asia) for just a dollar or two.

    Recommended: An exciting read

  • The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

    In one line: An epic tale of vengeance set within 19th century French society, as one man is falsely imprisoned and upon escape embarks on a journey of revenge.

    Travel passion: The 900 pages of heavy prose are certainly value for money for the hard-up traveller! This book is all about journeys – the protagonist as a keen sailor travels all over Europe (and beyond); and secondarily his deliciously intricate progress towards obtaining a satisfactory retribution for the wrongs that he suffered.

    Recommended: Highly, a worthy investment of time

  • First They Killed My Father – Luong Ung

    In one line: An inspirational true story of a young girl’s experience of living through Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia including witnessing the murder of many of her family.

    Travel passion: This story takes place in Cambodia – a popular stop on many travellers’ itineraries. We travelled through Cambodia recently and after reading this book it was hard not to look into the faces of the older generation of Cambodians without wondering what they experienced (only 35 years ago) and what part they may have played during the campaign.

    Recommended: If travelling through Cambodia this is a must-read. If not, still a stunning book

  • The Beach – Alex Garland

    In one line: One man’s journey in search of a travellers paradise, away from the tourist crowds.

    Travel passion: Alex Garland was said to be inspired to write The Beach after visiting Ang Thong Marine Park, which is a beautiful site consisting of several uninhabited islands, while the film itself was shot on Koh Phi Phi Leh – both must-see sites on a travel itinerary around Thailand. Both spots are very picturesque but definitely spoilt by the crowds…ironic given the themes of the book!

    Recommended: At only a few hundred pages it’s worth a fast read but one occasion where we think the film is actually better than the book.

  • Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger

    In one line: A first person narrative of a seemingly-autistic young man going through the struggles of adolescence.

    Travel passion: The book is set in and around New York but the character aspires to push out of the constraints of everyday life and normal surroundings…something that resonates with many travellers!

    Recommended: Highly – a breathless read.

  • Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer

    In one line: The true story of a young man’s deadly journey of self discovery across the US and the plains of Alaska

    Travel passion: Chris McCandless wanted to get away from the suburban, middle-class life that surrounded him and live off the land, alone, in the wilderness of Alaska. Quitting jobs and becoming free of the constraints of a “normal” city life is a common aim of many travellers – us included! 🙂

    Recommended: It will resonate with travellers.

  • Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

    In one line: Following Yossarian and the characters within his squadron in WWII, this bizarre novel depicts their hopeless lives through comedy and satire.

    Travel passion: The main protaganist desperately tries to escape his surroundings and manages the odd trip to Rome. Otherwise, not much to inspire travel.

    Recommended: A fresh perspective on the horrors of war – you’ll either love it or hate it

  • More book reviews to come as and when we read them!

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