A Trip Around the World

I’ve joked before that if my fiancee ever asks me for a dowry prior to marriage, I would offer him my most valuable asset: my personal library. If he didn’t think that was good enough, the wedding would be off. Point being that I can’t spend the rest of my life with someone who doesn’t understand the value of a good book.

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I used to spend all of my money on books as a kid-a habit I haven’t abandoned as an adult. From Baby-Sitters Club to 19th century European literature; autobiographies to contemporary tales about fearless heroes and heroines. Books allow you to travel without moving an inch. Here are a few of my favorite stops in my never ending journey:

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela: At 800-something pages, my sister-in-law once referred to it as “Long Walk to the End of the Book.” I appreciated her joke, but I can’t say I’ve found many autobiographies that are as impressive and inspiring as Nelson Mandela’s. His words were authentic and his story of how a “Rohilala” (troublemaker) turned into South Africa’s best weapon against Apartheid is humbling and dignified. As the first memoir I’ve been influenced by, it is now the measuring stick for all other autobiographical accounts that I read.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke: When I was in college, I took a class on Comparative Poetry which focused chiefly on European writers. In this class, I encountered the work of Rilke. His poetry was so beautiful that it made me want to learn German just so I couud read it in its original form. Letters to a Young Poet’s artistry urges a reader to live with a clearer perspective. It’s a lot like inviting someone into your life and letting him put a pair of glasses on you so that you can see your life more clearly and more sharply.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Just as Paris is widely regarded as the “City for Lovers,” Love in the Time of Cholera is the part of my journey that made me believe that it’s possible to believe in that “can’t live without you” feeling. There’s nothing quite like a classic love story, and who can resist Marquez’s story about a destined elderly couple re-finding each other, falling in love and pledging to be together forever?

Night by Elie Wiesel-Sometimes we end up in unpleasant places that we wish we had never set foot into, but we know our lives will never be the same if we had never entered them. In my literary journey, Night is that place. Elie Wiesel recounts unimaginable horrors that serve as a lesson that the reader should always remember no matter how much he wants to forget it. This story is one that must be told and must be heard because if it had remained unwritten, millions of innocent victims would be silenced forever.

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien-Have you ever had legions of experienced travelers tell you that there’s one place that you just HAVE TO go to or you can’t call yourself a true traveler? You may end up liking the place, you might not. But you’re grateful for the experience because you can say you’ve been there and you understand all the references that everyone makes to that place at cocktail parties. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the written equivalent of that place. Countless references to this epic exists in pop culture…even our Friends Ross and Chandler refer to Gandalf. And besides, don’t you want to understand what people mean when they say the Eye of Sauron is watching you?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz-All those LOTR references bring me to Junot Diaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, whose title character aspires to be “The Dominican Tolkien.” This is just one of those books you have to spend some quality time with to understand. Even the footnotes are intriguing. Never before have I met a character that I loved and hated more than Oscar Wao. The guy is such a loser that you don’t think you’ll ever become fond of him, but somehow you do. You root for the guy who tries to speak in Elvish and you realize that he appeals to the Oscar Wao in you, forming a kind of kinship that exists only between the kids who play Dungeons and Dragons.

Interpreter of Maladies-Speaking of compelling characters, not many authors create them as well as Jhumpa Lahiri in Interpreter of Maladies. Meeting the people in her short stories is like the summer fling in Costa Rica or that extra helpful tour guide in Milan. You know you’ll eventually have to say goodbye, but they still exist in the back of your mind. And when you get back home and unpack your bags from these long vacations, you wonder if they’ll be okay. I read this book about two years ago, and I’m still wondering if Twinkle is finding stuff in her basement. Yeah, Lahiri makes you care that much.

No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton-So, you know how everyone gets to a point in their lives where they decide they need to “find themselves” and they end up traveling to some spiritual place like Nepal or they decide to visit the Sphinx in Egypt (I’m looking at you, Alicia Keys!)? If that place could be captured in 2oo-something pages and bound in between two covers, it would be called No Man is an Island. This book is a spiritual journey, where you find truth, where you doubt everything you’ve done for the last decade. It’s essentially where you go when you need some guidance and need to get away from the monotony of everyday life and you returned refreshed…but you always make it a point to revisit.

So, I’ve heard before that a book is great because it allows you to travel without moving an inch. I’m always ready to grab my passport and take off on yet another adventure.

What’s your favorite spot on your literary journey?

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