What journey is more important than the one that we take in our own minds? Maybe the commute to work, sure, but when you’re somehow squashed up against seven people AND you have a pole in your back but are still managing to read a book, these are the stories that transport us to the minds of others; the minds that are being transported. HOW VERY META.
A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Patrick Leigh Fermor was described by a BBC journalist as ‘a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene’. In 1933, when he was 18, he set off on a walk from Holland to Constantinople, armed with Horace’s Odes, The Oxford Book of English Verse, a rucksack of clothes, and several letters of introduction. He stayed in barns, shepherd’s huts and monasteries, and was invited into the chateaux of Europe’s aristocracy. He travelled a continent in flux: vestiges remained of the tiny hereditary monarchies which had ruled, but this was also the year after Hitler’s rise to power. Written in 1977, by which time Leigh Fermor had become a war hero and a literary man of the world, A Time of Gifts sees an old man reflect on the adventures of a young boy, and chart that boy’s rise to maturity under the influence of his experiences and surroundings. Followed by Between the Woods and the Water (1986) and The Broken Road (2013).
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Journeys don’t get more epic than one from Hell to Heaven via Purgatory, and it would be difficult to overstate the literary importance of The Divine Comedy, in which Dante describes just such a journey. It inspired Blake, Eliot, Joyce and Heaney; and contributed to the standardisation of the Italian language. Told in the first person in energetic and idiomatic terza rima, Dante is guided by Virgil and then Beatrice, his ideal of womanhood, through the ranks of the damned, each fantastically punished according to their sin, and the blessed. However, the journey is really a spiritual one, an allegory for the progress of Dante himself, and humanity in general, towards the love of God, and away from the temptations of their baser selves.
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
In The Year of Reading Dangerously, Andy Miller takes a journey through the literary canon, or, to be specific, all those books he has never got around to reading. With sharp humour and unflinching honesty, he records and analyses his experience of reading the eclectic list he sets for himself, ranging from Dan Brown to Jane Austen. In doing so, he is forced to reassess his, and our, relationship with the books we read: the different ways in which we enjoy or despise them and the ways we use and abuse them for our own ends. He discovers things about himself as a reader that he had never realised before, and makes serious enquiries into what a good book really is.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Or, as the subtitle goes: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Two men, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, travel, with the aid of a spectacular cocktail of drugs, into the darkness that exists under the civilized façade of late 20th century America, and their own minds. They destroy hotel rooms and cars, converse with hallucinations of desert animals, and consume cocaine, mescaline, LSD, ether, cannabis and booze. All of this is related to us through a surreal and poetic non-linear narrative, which takes us into Duke and Gonzo’s minds even as they are warped and destroyed. As they enter planes of consciousness only available through nihilistic abandon, important truths are revealed about modern humanity and society.
Words by William Spray
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