Seeking Easy-Reading Classic Literature with a dash of Travel
June 13, 2020 4:59 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I have been reading Hemingway books to each other before bed each night, as we have found them to be the right recipe of enriching literature + easy listening after a long day + a some armchair travel while we're lockdown. Besides Hemingway, which classic books (novels or memoirs) offer this same recipe for a pre-sleep ritual?

I have seen this question but would like to focus on it being enriching literature but ALSO not too strenuous to listen to, as much as the armchair travel element. (By "strenuous" I mean we don't want to have to pause to look up every other word, or Joyce-like run on sentences. Because then we will fall asleep mid-sentence.) Thanks!
posted by egeanin to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Robert Louis Stevenson Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Herman Melville Omoo (and others).

I was looking for the same types of books earlier this spring! I liked the mix of straightforward narrative and the travel.
posted by philfromhavelock at 5:47 PM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


The Count of Monte Cristo is really fun, and also good. While it is long, the chapters are short and perfect for reading aloud.
posted by veery at 6:01 PM on June 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


I picked up a copy of Jean de Florette last year and love it for this sort of thing. It's got a Shakespearean or Dickensian flavor (very sharp, well drawn characters) and feels like storytelling in the oral tradition, with lots of side stories and an amusing narrator. Wonderful evocative setting; it IS provençal. The English translation is either "Jean de Florette" or "Water of the Hills."
posted by basalganglia at 6:38 PM on June 13, 2020


I'm currently enjoying "Travels on the Amazon" by Alfred Russel Wallace, on his 1848 visit as a naturalist collecting critters (mostly insects, but he also writes of shooting birds), and about the places and people he saw. He's an interesting person, and it's quite light reading and sends me nicely off to sleep.

From Wikipedia "He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection; his paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Charles Darwin's writings in 1858."
posted by anadem at 6:46 PM on June 13, 2020


Best answer: You might enjoy Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.

Maybe also Lampedusa by Stephen Price, which is a fictional telling of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa writing of the classic novel The Leopard, which I think presents a great immersive idea of what life in Sicily in the mid-20th Century is like for someone of the upper class.

Also I'd second The Count of Monte Cristo. FANtastic novel.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:49 PM on June 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote three books about walking from Holland to Constantinople as a young man in the 1930's. They are beautiful.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 8:11 PM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Seconding Patrick Leigh Fermor; I read an excerpt from one of his books and it was stunning.

You might also like Bruce Chatwin's books, particularly The Songlines and In Patagonia. The Black Hills is my favourite of his. (It's wonderful, but focuses on a pair of brothers in a single Welsh village, so some of the travel aspect is missing.) Worth noting, he essentially published his books as non-fiction, but there are, let us say, extensive questions about what actually ever happened and when. So perhaps, truly, a combination of travelogue and literature.

Actually, if you're really longing for travel memoirs written beautifully, think about picking up a copy of The Best of Granta Travel. Absolutely exquisite collection of travel writing, much of it during the very tumultuous politics of the eighties. Reading it changed my life. Particular favourites are Martha Gellhorn returning to Cuba, some early Bryson, Redmond O'Hanlon travelling in Borneo accompanied by the great poet James Fenton, and the final essay by Christopher Hitchens(!) in Romania literally the day after the Ceaușescus were executed.
posted by kalimac at 9:43 PM on June 13, 2020


Best answer: Beryl Markham's West with the Night, is both engrossing and pretty easy going.

The language in Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans is somewhat elaborate in that early 19th century way, but she has a sharp eye and a sharp wit. My parents read it aloud to one another successfully.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:55 PM on June 13, 2020


Re memoirs and travel writing I've always found Eric Newby very readable, very fresh. The two best known are The Last Grain Race (a 1956 book by Eric Newby, a travel writer, about his time spent on the four-masted steel barque Moshulu during the vessel's last voyage in the Australian grain trade... In 1938 the 18-year-old Newby shipped aboard the four-masted barque Moshulu as an apprentice.) and A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (an autobiographical account of his adventures in the Hindu Kush, around the Nuristan mountains of Afghanistan, ostensibly to make the first mountaineering ascent of Mir Samir. Critics have found it comic, intensely English, and understated. It has sold over 500,000 copies in paperback.)

He had an amazing life and he wrote loads.
posted by glasseyes at 1:30 AM on June 14, 2020


You might try Bill Bryson as well. Notes From A Small Island (Bryson wrote Notes from a Small Island when he decided to move back to his native United States, but wanted to take one final trip around Great Britain, which had been his home for over twenty years) is a nice place to start, as is A Walk in the Woods (a 1998 autobiographical book by travel writer Bill Bryson, describing his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend "Stephen Katz". The book is written in a humorous style, interspersed with more serious discussions of matters relating to the trail's history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people.)

Bryson also wrote the memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbold Kid, about growing up in Des Moines in the 50s and 60s.
posted by glasseyes at 2:17 AM on June 14, 2020 [3 favorites]


The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene Du Bois
posted by soelo at 6:38 AM on June 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Lonesome Dove, if your definition of travel includes moving a herd of cattle up north.
posted by Bron at 7:23 AM on June 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. Plainly told adventure that begins with the author escaping from a British internment camp in India by crossing the Himalayas.

Travels with Myself and Another: Five Journeys from Hell by Martha Gellhorn. Bleakly funny. Hemingway makes an appearance as UC (Unwilling Companion).
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:58 AM on June 14, 2020


Checking my Eric Newby recs for accuracy led me to Love and War in the Apennines, his WWII memoir from 1971, and it's really very good so far. Dry, entertaining, observant and high adventure.

While he is often referred to as the kind of travel writer who doesn't exist any more I find his voice sounds sharply contemporary, like having a modern voiceover attached to events we usually only get to peer at through a historical perspective.

"After the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces in 1943, the author left the prisoner-of-war camp in which he had been held for a year, PG 49 at Fontanellato, and evaded the Germans by going to ground high in the mountains and forests south of the Po River. In enforced isolation, he was sheltered and protected by an informal and highly courageous network of Italian peasants. "

A lot of his books are available to borrow for free on The Internet Archive.
posted by glasseyes at 11:12 AM on June 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


William Least Heat-Moon:

Blue Highways

River-Horse

I've read both, a chapter at a time, enjoyable and not too demanding.

Also Paulo Coelho's The Pilgrimage
posted by mareli at 3:14 PM on June 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


If books generally considered to be for younger readers are admissible - they're good for reading aloud! - what about Island of the Blue Dolphins, or My Side Of The Mountain, or The Swiss Family Robinson?
posted by tomboko at 4:05 PM on June 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana is a favorite of mine.
posted by eleslie at 5:52 AM on June 15, 2020


Best answer: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck and MFK Fisher's food writing come to mind. Seconding the Eric Newby recommendation, too.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: We're going to start with "West with the Night" - but these are all great suggestions. Thank you!!
posted by egeanin at 3:04 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Patrick Leigh Fermor is amazing, but hoo boy! Sentences can run looong and the historical, literary and every other kind of references are uber-frequent, obscure and highly sophisticated. Beautiful, but tough sledding. Not my idea of bedtime reading. Kind of the antithesis of Hemingway.
posted by Text TK at 7:36 PM on June 15, 2020


Best answer: Seconding William Least-Heat Moon and Down and Out in Paris and London. Also, maybe Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller (Greece).
posted by Text TK at 7:52 PM on June 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


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