Bibliotherapy: Books to Help your Wanderlust

Road in the woods, image from unsplash
Category: Reading

Oh the Wanderlust is on me, goes the song. But what’s the point of digging out your hiking boots if, for numerous reasons – job, kids, illness, disability, you’re not free to merrily head off towards the distant horizon?

Well, don’t despair. If you can muster enough energy to stagger to your local bookshop or library, you’ll at least be able to travel vicariously. You don’t need a passport or visas, and you never get seasick or blisters. What’s more, scientific experiments show that reading about doing a physical activity like walking or cycling activates the same neurons in the brain as actually doing the physical act. That’s got to be good for you.

If you can muster the energy to stagger to your local bookshop or library, you’ll at least be able to travel vicariously

So, for the first leg of your journey, track down Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. In 1941, ten-year-old Dervla had an ambition: to cycle from her native Ireland to India. Full Tilt tells the story of how, twenty years later, on her three-gear bike and with a .25 revolver in her pannier, she did just that. It’s an amazing story. At the start she didn’t even know how to mend a puncture, yet she cycled, a woman alone, across Europe and into Asia. In Yugoslavia she was bitten by a wolf, and in Afghanistan, thanks to a blow from a rifle, she suffered broken ribs. Now well into her eighties, the intrepid Dervla’s still travelling and writing. But Robert Penn, a travel writer in his own right, warns, ‘I started reading Full Tilt on a grey morning, wearing a grey suit, in a crowd of grey faces on the London Underground. Several Central Line stops later, I'd raced with Dervla Murphy from Dunkirk to Delhi, and made the decision to quit my career as a lawyer and cycle round the world.’  And he did just that.

Linda Cracknell’s Doubling Back: Ten Paths Trodden in Memory takes things at a slower pace. In this unusual mix of travelogue, memoir and meditation you can walk with Linda in landscapes as disparate as Scandinavia and Africa, as well as some closer to home in Scotland. Each story covers different ground and is complete in itself. That makes it easy to pace yourself, rest when you need to, and savour the experience.

Or how about a novel that takes you on a road trip through France? Turn up the heating, uncork a bottle of Cotes du Rhone, prepare une assiette de saucisson and settle down with Janice Galloway’s, Foreign Parts, starring two thirty-somethings, Cassie and Rona. They are old friends. This is a planned holiday. Yet even as they board the cross-Channel ferry the tension’s building. And as they meander through France sparks fly, resulting in spats at times painful, at times laugh-out-loud funny. Foreign Parts exposes the joys and tribulations of travelling with a mismatched companion. Galloway, whose latest short story collection Jelly Fish came out recently, is a playful writer. Give yourself time to get into the flow of her idiosyncratic style. SPOILER ALERT: Cassie and Rona don’t drive off a cliff at the end. Galloway’s too clever a writer to give her characters such a quick and easy way out.

Foreign Parts exposes the joys and tribulations of travelling with a mismatched companion

For a totally different kind of read, get your hands on a copy of Laurie Lee’s classic, As I Walked Out One Midsummer’s Morning. Laurie Lee’s best known, of course, for Cider With Rosie. In As I Walked Out… the young Lee feels the need to leave the village where he grew up. So what does he do? Make lots of complicated plans? Work hard for years to save up? No. He simply walks off, all the way to London. Then, after a while, sets off for Spain, with no more Spanish than ‘Will you please give me a glass of water?’. With nothing but his violin and a blanket to sleep under, he crosses the country, chronicling the sights and sounds as well as the people he meets. 'There's a formidable, instant charm in the writing,’ one reviewer commented,  ‘that genuinely makes it difficult to put the book down.'     

But this is Europe in the 1930s, and Spain is on the verge of civil war. Reading As I Walked Out won’t exercise your legs, but it will allow you to travel the hills and villages of Spain as well as time travel to a Spain now all but disappeared.

And if after all this ‘book travel’ you still feel the ‘wanderlust’ and decide to dust down your bike or your boots or tug your suitcase from under the bed and blow the stoor off it, remember to pack a notepad and pen: you never know, you might be inspired to write your own travel book!


For more stories to satisfy your wanderlust, check out Journeys.

Magi Gibson

Magi Gibson is an award-winning poet, as well as author of the Seriously Sassy novels for children. She received a major Scottish Arts Council Bursary in 2007 for her children's writing, and has held three Scottish Arts Council Fellowships and one Royal Literary Fund Fellowship. She lives in Glasgow, and as well as writing, is a bibliotherapist and former Reader in Residence with Glasgow Women's Library.

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