You may have tired your eyes out reading this line, or you may soon enough, but bear with me—“it’s that time of the year…” and it really is! While festivities are partly to thank for the joy in the air, fewer work days and almost always-approved leaves add a spark to it, prompting planning for holidays, big and small.
Now what fun would it be if you let the top Google articles decide where you should travel to next? Which is what brings us here—speaking with Sumeet Keswani, a travel editor who has, well, travelled the world (although he may not put it just like that) and written about it for all of us to read and take inspiration from. That he is a bibliophile is an added bonus. A conversation about how to plan the coming year-end holiday led to these five eclectic book selections that offer something for every reader, and are magically capable of inspiring travels that you didn’t have in mind when you began, but are just what you needed in the end.
The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton
You may get your next destination idea from any of the hundreds of magazines, web portals, or guidebooks out there, but do you know how to savour that destination? Are you conscious of your choices, elations, and disappointments on these journeys? A master of the essayistic form, Alain De Botton urges you to observe—everything from the joy of anticipation of a trip to the inevitable disappointment in arrival at an exotic place—while narrating his own a-ha moments on the road and citing singular travellers like Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh, and Alexander von Humboldt. No matter where you travel in the coming year, take this book along—not so much as a guide but as a friend who finishes your sentences.
Superpowers on the Shore by Sejal Mehta
If you’re a beach person, this is the perfect book to pick up before you plan your next seaside holiday. Sejal Mehta offers a bewitching—and often hilarious—window to the fascinating biodiversity that thrives unnoticed in innocuous tide pools. From penis-fencing flatworms to home-swapping hermit crabs and camouflaging cephalopods, there’s a lot going on in those pools that reveal themselves during low tide. You just have to know where to look and what to look for—this book will help.
Jerusalem by Guy Delisle
Guy Delisle has perfected the art of narrating a travelogue from the POV of the ignorant outsider—in comics. This form of story takes on a whole different scale in places like Jerusalem, where the tragedy of a long battle is juxtaposed with the absurdity of a huge wall fencing an entire population into a quasi prison. The graphic novel form makes the difficult truths of life in the region a bit more palatable and the complex history behind them a lot more accessible, but it also offers a blueprint to approaching a foreign country and a foreign people with curiousity, sensitivity, and compassion.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
On the surface, this is a fictional story about a widowed astrobiologist struggling to understand and help his troubled son navigate social interactions and stay in school. But really, it is so much more. Theo Byrne searches for life on planets light years away from Earth and takes his nine-year-old, Robin, on imaginative cosmic explorations to almost unimaginable places, but he fails to explain the state of their own planet. Robin, who harbours a world of empathy for all living things on Earth, struggles to make peace with the stark reality of human greed, apathy, and brutality. If this novel doesn’t put you on the responsible-travel path, I don’t know what will!
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Are you heading to a European city rich in art and culture? Do you have a lot of museums on your itinerary? Pick up this classic (originally a TV series of 30-minute films!) by John Berger. To the uninitiated it may look like academic reading material for a student of art and humanities; it is anything but that! In fact, Berger takes art away from the elites and the critics, handing it to you for an interrogation—even the most legendary oil paintings in the Louvre are not spared. His analyses and criticism open new doors of thought, letting you see the links between money and realism, and the inherent patriarchal male gaze in the depiction of women through the ages.
Keswani is the head of content at Kunzum and the former managing editor at T+L India & South Asia.