The best books to make you pack your suitcase for far away places

Who am I?

As an author and composer, writing to me is music: the flow of words across the page can sparkle like a symphony, cry like a requiem, or swagger like rock n’ roll. Places have their own kind of music: in the lilt of their language, the lift of their architecture, the beauty of their landscapes. My favorite books about those places manage to capture that particular music, singing a siren song that stirs my senses and makes me want to go there—not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. I live in Hudson, NY with my wife, actress/writer Mel Harris. Our four children live all over the place. 

I wrote...

The Piazza: Stories from Piazza Santa Caterina Piccola

By Bob Brush, Scott Howard (illustrator),

Book cover of The Piazza: Stories from Piazza Santa Caterina Piccola

What is my book about?

On a tiny piazza in an obscure Italian hilltop town in 1933 remarkable things are happening. From the window of his mother’s bakery a young boy, Niccolò, sees it all. The citizens of this unexpected and improbable place find themselves bound together by their hopes, their lies, their humanity, and their destiny, unbowed in the face of onrushing war and certain catastrophe. It’s a heartwarming, heartbreaking, fantastical love song to a time and place that no longer exist—if in fact they ever existed at all.

The books I picked & why

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Out of Africa

By Isak Dinesen,

Book cover of Out of Africa

Why this book?

If you only know the movie, you’ve missed the majesty of Isak Dinesen’s rhapsodic love song to the noble creatures and intricate peoples of the African veldts. Despite its colonial overtones, written in 1937, this is a passionate and compassionate portrait of a place like no other, a portrait of the Earth before she received her name. Check out the story of Kamante and Lulu, or “the Giraffes Go To Hamburg”;  they’ll break your heart. “If I know a song of Africa, does Africa know a song of me?” Dinesen writes. I read this book when I was very young and dreamed of going. Because of it, I have travelled there. Part of me has never come back. 

The Remains of the Day

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Book cover of The Remains of the Day

Why this book?

Take everything you know about British Empire—its royal traditions, its stiff-upper-lip haughtiness, its unflappable sense of superiority—and cram it into the character of a nearly-irrelevant, self-deluded yet heartbreakingly sympathetic butler named Stevens, whose comical misadventures lead us from an outdated British manor house across the spectacular countryside of England in his search to recapture a romance that (spoiler) may never have actually been. Kazuo Ishiguro employs the ultimate “unreliable narrator” to poke fun at the British class system; in the process he creates an opera buffo that plays against the haunting rural beauty of that sceptered isle. For my money, it’s a better taste of England than all the tea in Buckingham Palace. Just sayin’.

The Snow Leopard

By Peter Matthiessen,

Book cover of The Snow Leopard

Why this book?

How far must you travel to discover your true inner self? Pretty far, for Peter Matthiessen—all the way to the slopes of Annapurna in Nepal, in search of blue sheep, the Lama of Crystal Mountain, the elusive snow leopard, and most of all, spiritual enlightenment—very big in the ’70s (trust me, I was there). It’s a journal, a travelogue, a nature study, a daredevil escapade in a setting of such unworldly grandeur that makes you long to be there, at the top of the world, where the clouds dance and the mountains sing. Lots of self-reflection, but absolutely worth signing on for the trek.

This Is Happiness

By Niall Williams,

Book cover of This Is Happiness

Why this book?

Clearly, I have a soft spot for stories about small towns in foreign places, and the people who inhabit them, steeped in the deep ways of village life, bearing the consequences of their collective failures and aspirations. This story, of a small Irish village in rural County Clare facing the unexpected approach of progress, is remarkable not just for the uniqueness of its characters, but for the brilliance of William’s writing. Each sentence is a masterpiece, each surprising phrase music to the ears: hopeful, alive and forlorn. Who would not travel to this place, to be among that kind of human magic? I love this book.


By Joseph Heller,

Book cover of Catch-22

Why this book?

Who wouldn’t want to travel to the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean sea south of Elba? There’s an airstrip there full of bombers—the ones that haven’t yet been shot out of the skiesplus a military barracks that’s closer to an insane asylum, and a certain Captain Yossarian, who’s fighting to keep himself, and anyone dumb enough to join him, alive until tomorrow. Not the stuff of a travel book, you say? I don’t care. This is my favorite book ever, a brilliant, brave, side-splitting, troublemaking, groundbreaking epic that redefined both the comic novel and war as well. At age 12 it made me laugh; at 40, it made me weep. So skip Pianosa and travel somewhere else; just take this book with you. I promise it’ll make your plane ride a lot more interesting.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the upper class, Africa, and secrets?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the upper class, Africa, and secrets.

The Upper Class Explore 37 books about the upper class
Africa Explore 156 books about Africa
Secrets Explore 99 books about secrets

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Out of Africa: And Shadows on the Grass, The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood, and Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life if you like this list.