Coronavirus has put our travel plans on hold indefinitely, but we can still enjoy some of our favorite aspects of globe-trotting. World travelers love to soak in the culture, food and history of each place they visit — and luckily books still offer a way to transport yourself all over the world.
In their own unique ways, these five books explore the traditions and cultures of locations all across the globe for a vacation you can take from your couch.
“Samba: The Making of a Brazilian Carnival” by Alma Guillermoprieto.
Held each year before Lent, the Rio Carnival is the largest carnival in the world, drawing up to 2 million visitors each day to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Central to the festival is a competition in Samba, an Afro-Brazilian style of music and dance. The competition is held each year and runs for four nights as schools from all over the country perform.
In “Samba,” Guillermoprieto recounts the year she spent living in a village outside Rio, where she immersed herself in learning the ritual and history of Samba by joining a school training for the parade. Guillermoprieto artfully shares the stories of principal participants and delves into how feelings and emotions can be expressed through music and dance.
“The Piano Shop On The Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier” by Thad Carhart.
Paris is always a good idea, and this charming memoir will make you feel as though you’re wandering the beautiful Parisian streets. After several failed attempts, American expat Carhart managed to gain entry to Desforges Pianos, a local music shop that doubled as a Friday night hangout spot where everyone from craftsmen to professors would congregate to chat over glasses of wine.
Luc, the shop’s owner, sells Carhart a piano and becomes his musical mentor as the author rediscovers his passion for the instrument. Through piano and nights spent at Desforges Pianos, Carhart gains new insight into music and his relationship with the city of Paris itself — and readers are given a glimpse of the secret parts of the city that go unseen by tourists.
“In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson.
We can always count on Bryson for lighthearted, humorous reflections on his travels. This book recounts Bryson’s journey all over Australia, from forests to mining towns to abandoned coastal cities.
The book is filled with fun facts and trivia about the beautiful continent that happens to be home to a large number of lethal creatures — some of which Bryson meets along the way. He gamely travels far off the beaten path, and befriends welcoming locals who are eager to share their culture with him. Readers will feel as though they’re right there with Bryson, enjoying the sunshine, the company and a cold beer. (And dodging the occasional shark, poisonous snake or toxic caterpillar.)
“Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea” by Jeff Koehler.
Darjeeling is often recognized as the world’s best tea-producing site, and Koehler uses the production of the tea leaves as a way to introduce readers to the history and culture of India. Against the backdrop of the Himalayas, we’re taken on a journey from the era of British imperial rule to the struggle for independence and its impact on the Darjeeling tea industry.
A combination of history, mythology, politics and recipes for tea lovers, the book also addresses the issue of climate change and how tea gardens are using radical methods to fight harmful farming practices and produce the beloved tea in an ecofriendly manner.
“A Moveable Feast,” edited by Don George.
Tasting new, exotic cuisine is one of the best parts of traveling, hands down. This 38-course book featuring stories from seasoned travelers, including the likes of Anthony Bourdain, takes readers all over the world, from eating mutton in Morocco to bat on Fais Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. The stories delve into far more than the taste of the food — they also offer insight into how different cuisines replenish us emotionally and spiritually. It’s a mouthwatering journey in which food is used to teach us about a rich, diverse array of cultures.