Books and nature
Holidays are the best times to indulge in books. There are no pressing deadlines, household errands or – depending on where you go – Wi-Fi signal to distract you from the wonders of the printed word. This is especially true for walking holidays, which are a time to feel the earth under your feet in fascinating and idyllic destinations.
Whether you’re deciding on where to go for your next destination or already done packing your bags and about to scour the bookstore for a paperback companion, here are some of our top picks for books to bring on your next walking holiday.
The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane
It is very rare to find a travelogue that intertwines history and landscape just as keenly as Robert Macfarlane’s 2007 masterpiece The Wild Places. From the offset, the author poses the question of whether there are any genuinely wild places left in Britain and Ireland. The resulting lyrical meditation on the breathtaking landscapes of the UK archipelago is interlaced with timely reflections on climate change, kindred spirits, and belongingness.
In the book, Macfarlane climbs, walks, and swims by day, before spending his nights in wild woods, on cliff-tops, and in ancient meadows surrounded by fauna and flora. Through this, The Guardian notes that Macfarlane manages to show luxuriance and vitality which balances out the harshness associated with the wilderness. He also demonstrates that despite an increasingly fragmented world, a little sense and appreciation makes you see that many fundamental connections remain. The Wild Places is perfect for long train or bus rides and the end of long days in the landscapes of the UK.
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield
If you’re looking for something more action-packed, then Steven Pressfield more than delivers in his 1998 historical fiction novel Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae. Dense and detailed, the novel explores philosophical concepts more than the average war novel, and Pressfield does a stupendous job in portraying the heroism that took place in a battle waged nearly 2,500 years ago.
Gates of Fire tells the story of 2 million Persian invaders entering the mountain pass of Thermopylae, where they are met by 300 of Sparta’s finest warriors. This storyline might sound familiar to those who have seen 300 (2006) starring Gerard Butler, as the epic war film was based on this novel.
The battle itself is a cultural icon and is perhaps the most famous military last stand of all time, inspiring songs, paintings, and films. More recently, it has also inspired television series and even video games. These interactive presentations allow history buffs and regular audiences alike to immerse themselves in the infamous mountain pass of Thermopylae. Of course, the book goes beyond just naming dates, places and names. It delves into why these men went to battle in the face of certain death, exploring the concepts of self-service, community, and fraternity.
Having served as a marine, Pressfield gives readers what no normal historian can – a soldier’s eye view of the iconic battle. It is a perfect companion to exploring Arkadia, which was featured in a previous post here on Walking Holiday Info.
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci
Recently translated to English, the 2014 Finnish novel My Cat Yugoslavia is a lighter read than the previous one in this list, but nonetheless poignant in its exploration of important contemporary themes. Pajtim Statovci’s debut novel is a magical realist book that creates a memorable tale on being an outsider in modern Europe.
Although the book might be a little too weird for some – it features a talking cat and a pet boa constrictor – The Atlantic explains that it explores some very important ideas about memory, migration, and the violence of men. It uses science fiction, comic fable, and trauma narrative genres without ever fully settling into any of them, creating an uncanny story that works in the book’s depiction of the effects of war on young adults. My Cat Yugoslavia is great for exploring Europe with fresh eyes.
Do you have other book recommendations for people going on a walking holiday? Let us know in the comments below!