I know we all want to pretend that we’re hard core adventurers.  But let’s admit it.  Sometimes we travel to distant and exotic locations for the purpose of inserting ourselves into a hammock and reading until we wake up.  And sadly, there are times when we’re stuck at home.  So, if you need a few books to take the beach, or are unable to travel any farther than the library, here are some wonderful works of fiction to keep you traveling in your mind.

Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

These are quick easy reads (currently there are 14 books, but happily they keep coming) that will fill your head with images of Botswana and your heart with a warm fuzzy feeling.  I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s hard to overstate what a treasure these books are.  I can only say that every moment spent absorbing the world view of the heroine, Mma Ramotswe, is moment spent making the world a better place.

I’m 97% sure that you’ll love them.

And, yes, it’s a good way to prepare for a trip to Botswana.  A friend of mine listened to audio-books of the series before going on her first trip to Africa.  When she got there she was able to impress her hosts with the accent (and etiquette) she had learned from the books.

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Photo by Halighalie.

Wilbur Smith

I told a woman I met at language school that I wanted to go Namibia.  “You must read The Burning Shore,” she said.  Years later,  I ran into her again and she asked what happened.

“I still haven’t made it Namibia,” I told her. “But I’m addicted to Wilbur Smith.”

Addicted to Wilbur Smith is a good position to be in.  It comes with a lot of job security.  Smith has written over thirty novels which will take you through the recent history of Africa.  Wondering whatever happened to Rhodesia? Or who fought in the Boer wars? Or what’s the difference between the Matabele and the Zulu? Smith’s books will simultaneously entertain and inform you.

Tony Hillerman

Follow Navajo Tribal Policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn as they solve crimes and mysteries.  Jim Chee is young, and haunted by Navajo superstitions and spiritual beliefs.  Leaphorn is older and all cop

These novels will introduce you to a myriad of native cultures that exist in the American Southwest and immerse you in descriptions of one of the most memorable and dramatic landscapes you can imagine.

Leaphorn and Chee are good cops and they do figure things out.  But the thing that’s so delicious about these books is that they often solve the mystery after native justice has already been served.

Dorothy Dunnett

Hearing that I liked history, my step-mother handed me a book called Nicolo Rising.  It was beautifully written, but completely over my head.  However, not wanting to admit to my step-mother that I lacked the intellectual chops, I kept reading.  And that is my advice – keep reading.  About two-thirds of the way into the book, I realized that I was in love with the hero.  And with seven books ahead of me in the series, I proceeded to become completely obsessed.

Dunnett’s books allow you to travel in time as well as space.  The scope of the stories is huge, and they are full of historical references.  In most of her books the hero and his household are fictional, everyone else exists in history.  Her characters travel Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean during the 15th and 16th centuries.

These books are challenging, but incredibly rewarding. You will travel through Africa in search of the mythical Prester John and his Christian armies.  You will haggle with the Hanseatic League and hang out with Lorenzo the Magnificent. This is marvelous escapism.  For a year, I almost managed to forget the politics of my own time and country.  Instead I kept thinking, “Man, the Duke of Burgundy is really screwing up right now.”

5 replies
  1. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    Love Alexander McCall-Smith’s books. I was in Gaborone many years ago and remember it as a bit of a boring place, but after reading these books, I’m dying to go back and see it with fresh eyes. Also, his other series, the Sunday Philosopher’s Club and 44 Scotland Street really make Edinburgh come alive.


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