A few weeks back I sat in a London hotel reading a book on Lizzie Siddal, wife of Dante Rossetti, Pre-raphaelite artist in her own right, and model for the famous millais painting of Ophelia. The book wraps up with Lizzie’s stay at the red House, home to designer William Morris, leader of the arts and crafts movement in England. A quick Google revealed the house was just outside London, so off I went the next day on a trip to Bexleyheath.
This diversion is a great example of the power of books as travel companions. they might make you change your travel plans and maybe even have you booking a spontaneous flight.
The beauty of historical tales is that they allow us to experience both the past and the present simultaneously. I recall in my backpacker days, wandering through the rainy streets of mayfair, a crumpled copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in hand, searching for lord Henry Wotton’s house. The book took me in and out of centuries as the drizzly mists created a convincing 1890’s London around me.
Some books can illuminate different facets of destinations. For instance, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta shows the good, bad, unfathomable and absurdities of Mumbai. reading Picasso’s Guernica inspired my travels through Spain and also delivered me to the door of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid to stand in front of one of Picasso’s magnificent masterpieces.
So it’s not just guidebooks that do the pushing. Many who've read Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Kerouac’s On The Road or Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley would've fought an urge to embark on a road-trip across the US.
A friend of mine read Labyrinth by Kate Moss, set in Carcassonne and the Languedoc in Southern France. So compelling was the story that after he finished the book, he dragged his wife and four young kids there for a holiday to trace the book’s steps. He claims it was his best holiday ever, and also a brilliant read.