on literary escapes

In this brave new world, where travel seems like a dirty word, I’m assessing my priorities. I’ve turned my attention to other sources of escapism now that the midsummer sojourn to Copenhagen is looking unlikely. My undoubted gratitude for access to safety and shelter has not waned. Still, at seven weeks in, it has become apparent that what fuels me is a desire to see, discover, and explore something beyond my everyday bubble. 

While bunkering down in Los Angeles, I, like many others, have cultivated an interest in streaming, baking, and meditation – the trifecta of quarantine idolatry. And yes, these things have all been worthwhile pursuits that have solidified my sanity and passed the hours productively. But what has ignited the spark of inspiration that I so crave are books: pages containing a multitude of universes; a welcome reprieve from the stifling reality of newsfeeds and off-color memes. 

The tomes that I have been voraciously consuming haven’t necessarily been travel books, but more so stories where places are as vivid as people. So while we all endeavor to do our part and stay inside, those suffering from cabin fever might enjoy a book that prises open new worlds from the comfort of your couch.

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of discovering the genius of 18-year-old Sagan’s literary debut, might I implore you to start here. Set in the hazy summer bliss of the French Riviera, it chronicles a carefree and precocious Cecile and her first flush of womanhood. Published in 1954, some moments feel unseemly to the modern reader, but what ensnared me was the charm of coastal living—put, an idyll that I’d happily float away to. 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Last year this book was everywhere. I stupidly avoided it until December when it felt like the thunderous applause had somewhat abated. Set in the expansive marshland of North Carolina, I was hooked within the first pages. Thick with mystery and murder, the landscape was so beautifully rendered that it felt like the protagonist, inescapably shaping the narrative—a great one for those looking to reconnect with nature and that which is larger than themselves. 

Suite Venitienne by Sophie Calle

The artist’s first book, this novella is unlike anything else I have read. A compilation of prose and photography, it follows a voyeuristic narrator as she trails an unknown man from Paris to Venice. Bizarre but intriguing, no? An easy read to be devoured in an afternoon. Simultaneously banal and evocative, it is a book I reread regularly. 

Calypso by David Sedaris

Sedaris has the uncanny ability to have me in absolute hysterics, viscerally repulsed, and moved to tears in the turn of a page. Calypso is a compilation of stories and places, but the locale I felt most enchanted by was his Emerald Isle beach house, “The Sea Section.” This man is a literary genius, and if you need to laugh at the absurdity of life, this is the ultimate panacea.