Armchair Travel like a Pro: Reading the World

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Ever heard the saying “you’re never alone with a book”? There should also be a saying something like this: “you’re never stuck in one place with a book”

Before I ever traveled…I traveled

I know this is true, because long before I wandered far and wide via trains, planes and assorted automobiles (not to mention the occasional rickshaw or elephant), I traversed the world via the written word.  From a very young age, my teachers were curious about my family’s vacation habits and were always surprised, shocked even, to learn that we never went very far.

Some summers we would hop in the car and head to St. Louis to visit an aunt. While we were there, we might spend a day at Six Flags or the Magic House. Other years, we would head south to see the massive boulders at Elephant Rocks in Belleview, Missouri.  I was thirteen, officially a teenager, before my first trip out-of-state and eighteen before I ever flew.

A teacher and reader, herself, my mother always had a simple explanation at the ready for my puzzled instructors: ”Chris reads. Morning, noon, and night, whatever she can get her hands on, she reads. She especially likes to read about far away peoples and places.”

Everywhere is not an option

Even now, as a fairly well traveled adult, I love to read about distant and exotic destinations. Why? Because my reasoning is, I won’t be able to go everywhere I’ve read about, much less everywhere, period. Chances are that you won’t either.

Why traveling via books might be just the ticket

Reading is an inexpensive and relatively low-risk option when compared to actual travel. Also, depending on the destination, reading about it (think Antarctica, the Sahara Desert) can be much more comfortable than actually visiting it. A voyage via books is also a great way to test-drive a destination or culture, before you go, or compare notes after experiencing a new place. Some armchair travelers even enjoy reading about a locale while they’re there.

Even better, there are no physical or economic limits to where words on the page can take you. Maybe you can’t get your hands on the rupees and cents to spend a month traveling around India, or your bad knees, piranha phobia and pollen allergies prevent you from hiking through the Amazon basin —armchair traveling makes these issues irrelevant.  Want to sip tea in Ancient China or mine for minerals on the Moon in the year 3000? No need to pray for a time machine—from ancient history recorded on stone tablets and papyrus scrolls to the modern day e-book—this particular sort of “mental” time machine has been in a constant state of innovation since man learned to write.

An aside: Interestingly enough, the e-book is what makes it possible for a prolific reader like yours truly to freely armchair travel while traveling. When the city or country I’m actually getting to know becomes overwhelming or unpleasant, my kindle offers a wealth of new settings for a refreshing escape in a tiny, portable package.

Disclaimer: On success as an armchair traveler

Of course, to successfully navigate and get to know new places via books, you absolutely must be open to the story and the slice of the world it describes. Cynicism is not a good bosom-buddy when you want a writer to transport you to another place. Good arm-chair travelers, like good travelers period, are aware that an important part of any journey includes being uncomfortable, and getting past your own preconceptions (negative and positive) to certain truths, about yourself, and the culture and place you are trying to get to know.

Finally, a comfortable place to read and a book where setting is an important element in the story won’t hurt your chances at successful armchair travel, either. For some books to help quench your wanderlust, check out the list below:

Books that will get you going (places)

Some great books for armchair travelers with a yen to learn about other places (and times) include:

  • Marlena DeBlasi’s “1,000 days in Venice”: A divorced American chef falls in love (with a stranger, and a city) in Venice.
  • Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail:” After twenty years abroad, American travel-writer Bill Bryson reacquaints himself with his native country by walking the 2,100 miles Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
  • Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad”: Mark Twain’s  chronicles his humorous escapades in Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867,
  • Javier Moro’s “Passion India”: The real story of a Spanish dancer who becomes the fifth wife of a ruling maharaja.
  • David Farley’s “An Irreverent Curiosity:  In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town”. An entertaining tale of small town in Italy, and the mysterious disappearance of its holy relic.
  • Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the Wind”: in 1945 Barcelona, a father introduces his young son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and in the process introduces the boy to a whole new world.
  • Read.Learn.Write Contributor Andrew Blackman’s “On the Holloway Road”: Two young Londoners search for freedom and purpose on a road-trip around modern-day Britain.

Want more suggestions for traveler readers? Pick up a copy of “Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading For Travelers, Vagabounds and Dreamers” by Nancy Pearl.

Do you have a favorite book for armchair-travel? Where does it take you? Does it make you want to visit the actual, physical destination?


Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at, read about her travels at, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Admond.

Young Adult or Old Adolescent: Why Grown-ups Can Enjoy Books for Kids

This is an essay by Fiona Stirling.

May the odds be ever in your favour!

If you recognise this line you might just have heard of a little film called ‘The Hunger Games’. On its opening weekend it set a revenue record for a non-sequel film, pulling in a massive $155 million. With two more sequels to come, Lionsgate are expecting to make an insanely large profit of $1.5 billion. Yeah. One-point-five-billion. And where did this movie executives dream film come from? A book. And not just any book, but a book written for young adults.

Young adult fiction (YA) is designed to fill the void between children’s books, under 12’s, and adult books, over 18s. But this 13 to 17 target audience is leading to a phenomenon of books with an incredible appeal to any age. What is it that makes these works so special?

Even if you have somehow managed to escape The Hunger Games publicity machine – perhaps if you’ve been living in a cave or a desert somewhere – there is not a chance you haven’t heard of a young Mr. Harry Potter. From 9 to 90 years of age, people across the world have fallen in love with JK Rowling’s wizarding adventures. It works across generations because of one simple fact – adults see much more. Where children see a fantasy world of good vs. evil, with the tantalizing promise of a magical school they could one day escape to, adults can see in-depth explorations of major moral issues. There is ambiguity over who will win and what is right. There is heartbreak and tragedy. There is real life in a bubble of fantasy.

Rowling’s difficulties in real life are reflected throughout her tale. The haunting dementors for example, black faceless ghouls which suck every drop of joy from living creatures, are manifestations of the crippling depression she suffered after her divorce. To children they are bogey men; to adults they are the very real heaviness which can threaten to overwhelm even the best of us. It’s a message of hope that this darkness can be banished by casting the right spell.

A Patronus is a kind of positive force, and for the wizard who can conjure one, it works something like a shield […] In order for it to work, you need to think of a memory. Not just any memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory… Allow it to fill you up… lose yourself in it… then speak the incantation “Expecto Patronum”

–          Remus Lupin, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Another popular book-turned-mega-franchise is Twilight. Bella Swan is the loner at a new school who quickly becomes smitten with the local vampire, Edward Cullen. Vying for her attentions is the often topless werewolf Jacob Black. This is a book like Marmite. I love it, many people I know hate it. Yes, it’s simplistic and the writing not A-class standard but the story it weaves is the epitome of romance and love. It explores marriage, commitment, fidelity and family bonds. Some say these themes brainwash children into the author’s Mormon way of life, I feel it simply introduces the topic of matrimony in an exciting way. It also offers an avenue to explore sex in a safe way, with masked metaphors and gentle hints. For adults this can still be exhilarating; it’s the less is more paradox. By not reading explicitly about the lust between Bella and Edward our own minds are free to imprint whatever we want.

I promise to love you Forever- every single day of Forever

–          Edward Cullen, Twilight

Anyone that tries to say they wouldn’t want the above quote whispered in their ear someday is either a liar or a fool… or already married.

I think the important question with YA is really, what makes a good book? In a recent New York Times article it was summed up in the following.

Good  Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people

YA books have a specific magic to them. They are light, but not too sweet. They are dark, but never devastating. They do not tell lies about happy ever after but they try and reach something like it. Goals are achievable, even in fantastic circumstance. Speaking to a friend about this article she said that in her head she was still just a kid herself. I think that is true for many people, and YA fiction lets our inner kid rampage across the imagination. Think of a toddler high on the old blue Smarties (the ones with the fit inducing E number count), dancing like a pirate in an adventure playground. This is your brain on YA fiction.  Reading about young people battling the odds can give us hope for the future, while reinforcing the satisfaction of the trials we have already overcome.

“You aren’t a hero and I’m not beautiful and we probably won’t live happily ever after ” she said. “But we’re alive and together and we’re going to be all right”

–          Phillip Reeve, Mortal Engines

So next time you are looking for something to read, let yourself wander over to the YA section of the bookstore. Don’t be put off by the colourful cartoonist covers, and if you truly find them unbearable there are often ‘adult’ black covered versions hiding on a shelf somewhere. You can even ask the staff to help you find these, they won’t judge because they already know the secret – YA fiction rocks.

Now, having thoroughly convinced you to give YA fiction a go, below is a list of top books to get you started. I haven’t rated them purely because it’s too difficult to pick a favourite…

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

If I had to sum this series up in one word, it would be ‘Wow’. The films go some way to telling the story of Katniss and co., but only the books can hit you with the full force. There have been a few calls of plagiarism, but only of the idea. The execution is not comparable to any YA fiction out there at the moment. The central themes are class divides, poverty, opulence, war, redemption and the power of popular culture. If it doesn’t blow your mind, nothing will.

Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

I recently gave this series of books to my grandfather for his 80th birthday and he is absolutely loving it so far. Todd is the only boy in Prentisstown, a settlement on a planet mankind moved to after exhausting earth. The odd thing about Prentisstown is that everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts… Quite a concept, eh? The story follows Todd as he uncovers the truth of the new planet, along with his partner in crime Viola. This is an incredibly violent book which challenges the very concepts of right and wrong. It almost has an Avatar quality to it (and by proxy a Pocahontas quality), with New planet dwellers vs. the Old. The style is also unique as it is written very convincingly from Todd’s point of view, complete with spelling and grammatical errors.

I’ll find you-
Keep calling for me, Viola-
Cuz here I come.

– Todd, Monsters of Men

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

These books are pretty epic, mostly because of how they challenge the huge topics of life, death, religion, time and space. Lyra and Will are the 12 year old protagonists who go an adventure between the very fabric of worlds in order to save the universe from collapsing. Most memorable is Pullman’s manifestations of the soul. ‘Dæmons’ are the soul which follow their human counterparts throughout life as an animal-shaped being. Separation from this is torturous, and the interactions between human and ‘soul’ are some of the best parts of the books.  At its core the story is about the human struggle for free will, destiny and physical pleasure. Pullman reinforces the importance of this by making Will and Lyra’s physical pleasure the tonic that saves the world, in contrast to the overbearing church which seeks to halt them. This book is controversial to say the least, but thrilling all the same.

For all of [the Church’s] history… it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out

–          Margaret the Witch, The Subtle Knife

Hungry City Chronicles by Phillip Reeve

Extra bang for your buck here as Mr. Reeve has dispatched with the trilogy and opted for a cheeky quartet instead. And bang is certainly what you get in this story. In an unspecified number of years into the future Earth has been reduced to wasteland by a devastating conflict, known as the Sixty Minute War. The world as we know it has disappeared, replaced by Traction Cities. These are entire cities made mobile to allow them to escape natural disasters. The cities power themselves by using giant jaws to devour one another for resources. The imagination in this book is incredible and the warnings of a dystopian future to come all too clear.

Twilight Trilogy by Stephanie Meyers

Let me start here by acknowledging the haters of this series. Dear Haters, the problem you seem to have is that you compare the Twilight series to a fine steak. Twilight is not steak. Stephanie Meyers is not a Michelin starred chef. Stephanie Meyers makes McDonalds hamburgers in a greasy back room. There’s too much salt, and the only flavour comes from the gherkin. It’s not gourmet, but SOME PEOPLE LIKE IT. Some people even love it. If you taste it without expecting steak, you might just enjoy it too. If you want a story about life, love, free will and choice, with a healthy dose of fantasy then this book is for you.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickets (aka Daniel Handler)

Ever heard of a tridecalogy? You have now. Lemony Snickets’ adventures span thirteen books, chronicling the unfortunate events which befall the Baudelaire children. Charlotte loves to invent, Klaus loves to read and Sunny loves to bite. Together they use these loves to navigate the world after being orphaned by their parents in a tragic fire. The books paint adults as macabre and sinister, blindly obeying authority and succumbing to ambition and peer pressure.  The Baudelaire children on the other hand are free-thinking and independent. Filled with dark humour these books are also educational, with Snickets often satirically deconstructing words and metaphors for the reader.  Those who read within the books are also good characters, while anyone who shuns knowledge is often a villain.

“Composer” is a word which here means “a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.” This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing. This is called decomposing.

–          Lemony Snickets, A series of Unfortunate Events


My name is Fiona Stirling, I’m 24 years old and I left teaching a few  months ago to become a counsellor. I’ve written as a hobby for a few  years now and have had success with comedy skits being performed in the past. I live in St. Andrews, Scotland with my partner who spoils me with French quinine and Rose wine. In my free time I like to watch trashy films and I love to read even trashier books.

Photo: Some rights reserved by andromeda8236.

Home is Where the Adventure Starts and Ends

Alicia and I are gearing up for a trip in June. We are going to perform the traditional American tourist adventure where we attempt to gobble up as many delicate European morsels as we possibly can, hold them in our mouths, and then attempt to return home and spit them out to our friends and family. Aside from relying on a few additional guest posts here, nothing will change for you, the reader, of the site. I will probably share something from the trip when we get back and I have some travel related guest posts lined up to entertain you in our absence. That’s not the point of the post, though. The point of this article is to consider what “home” is and the concept of “home” can effect our reading.

What is “Home?”

Every time I start to think about taking a trip I reconsider “home.” Is my home where I am or where my loved ones are? Is home where my books are? Is home where I go to be healed and rest? Is home a traveller’s sanctuary? Is home the place you can be exactly who you are? Is home where you go when you’ve got no place else to be? Is home where you can decide how things should be and make them that way? Is home where some of our lives happen and where our dreams take place? Is home the place where when the music stops you can just start it back up again? What is home?

When I’m really feeling lost I usually end up thinking about something Joseph Campbell has already said. In his work with myths he identified the major events in a hero’s journey. Two of those events help us define home: (1) The Call to Adventure and (2) The Hero’s Return.

The Call to Adventure

“[D]estiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.” Joseph Campbell from p. 48 The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The hero must, to fulfill his destiny, leave the society he knows and loves. The trip may be as subtle as sleep such as the case of Rip Van Winkle or as epic as Ulysses’ trip in the Odyssey, spanning the world, known and unknown. Either way, the hero leaves.

From the hero’s journey we learn we need not feel guilty about leaving. We can be comfortable that the leaving has a chance to free us to fulfill our destiny. Home, therefore, is not a place where we must always remain. We can step outside our comfort zones and experience other worlds and lives without guilt.

The Hero’s Return

“The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may be redound to the renewing of the community, the notion, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.” Joseph Campbell from p. 167 The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The true hero must eventually return home. The journey is not complete until the hero brings something: new energy, new knowledge, new life, new hope, back to humanity and back to the friends and family he left.

A hero, therefore, has a home and an obligation to home which outlasts the adventure and even becomes to the benefactor of the adventure, eventually, even if the hero never anticipated the adventure’s result.

Stories and Home

In the stories we read we can look for this pattern. Are our heroes returning home in their adventures? What are they bringing back to their homes when they return? While we read we can look for the symbolism of the return gift and try to decipher its secondary meaning.

In our lives we should do the same. We should recognize leaving home creates the opportunity for adventure. Leaving the safety and security of the known for the unknown allows us to grow, ourselves, but it also gives us the opportunity to fulfill our obligation to our home by bringing back the boon of our adventure. The stories we live, of course, become the stories we tell. So we must be careful to carry out the hero’s task in our lives.


No matter how you define home, and there are many ways to do it, make sure you spend some time defining home so you know where your adventure must end. Every adventure we take has a chance to redefine home for us because we just might leave home without any indication who we’ll help when we get back.

I’d argue, absent a physical journey, reading can be our adventure. It can take us to new places. If Rip Van Winkle can be transported to a new world in his sleep, then a book can take as far if not farther. We can experience new ways of thinking, mythical creatures, and our own inner demons. As we read we should read with a sense of adventure and a sense of the hero’s goal: to bring something back to the people we left behind when we undertook the adventure. We should, from our reading and our travel, bring something back home that will help us all to live.

Some rights reserved by goingslo.

From Charlotte’s Web to Charlotte Bronte: How to Grow a Lifelong Reader

This is an essay by Ry Mas.

I love to read and as far as I can remember I always have. No one had to force me or carrot and stick me. Each book that I opened revealed some new far off world that I could visit whenever I wanted just by opening the cover of a book. I don’t recall how old I was when I first learned to read or even who taught me, but I do recall the childhood book that had the biggest impact on my life as a reader; Charlotte’s Web. There was a magic for me in that story that seemed to light up every mundane experience. Was the common gray spider in the corner some wise old sage sent to lead me on to some greater purpose? Needless to say that was never quite the case, but, years later as an adult the magic of books remains.

I shared that magic with my children. My son now 18 was the recipient of my sci-fi and fantasy obsessions. I read him novella versions of Doctor Who and Star Trek. I also read him books about things that interested him, music, art, and magic. He found his own magic in the Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. As a mother while I feel pride in the fact that my son has grown into an adult that loves to read. I often ponder exactly how much influence I wielded over that outcome. If I use myself as the example I must admit that my love for reading did not occur because I was read to on a regular basis or because I saw reading as a past time modeled for me. It was actually quite the opposite.

Tube to Text

In my home television was the prescribed mode of entertainment. My father and mother divorced when I was quite young and my mother worked the 3-11 shift at the local nursing home. This meant that the majority of my waking hours were spent with my Nana. Nana could read enough to get by with paying the bills and the like, but, a reader for pleasure she never was. She instead watched her “stories”on television. I cut my teeth on General Hospital and One Life to Live. I absolutely loved them just as much as she did and spent countless hours glued to the tube to find out what would happen next.

Fast forward thirty years and the little girl who watched the daily perils of Luke and Laura with much aplomb can’t stand daytime television. In fact I rarely watch conventional television at all and instead keep a book log to remember which book I want to read next. I am currently moving through the works of Charlotte Bronte: Jane EyreVillette, and The Professor are all in queue. Though my attempt to reconnect to the classics might gain me the “mature” reader badge in all honesty these days the bulk of my daily reading includes a strange mixture of children’s favorites like, The Cat in the HatFancy Nancy, and Mya’s Magic Money Machine, interspersed with Developing the Curriculum and Principles and Practices of Teaching Reading.

I walk an interesting tight wire of teaching my young daughter to read while learning to teach classrooms of young daughters (and sons) to read. This means that my daughter gets the benefit of my experience and love for reading paired with knowledge I gain from peer-reviewed research on the “best” methods to create a lifelong reader. At age 6 and still in the process of building reading fluency she already loves to read. She recently told me, “Mama, I just can’t understand how anyone doesn’t like to read. It’s just so fun!” Out of the mouths of babes, but, the fact remains that many people, perhaps I dare say most people don’t like to read. Like my daughter I was initially baffled by this phenomenon and then intrigued. I decided to turn to educational research to find the reason behind this disdain for reading and perhaps a solution, a lure as it were for non-readers into the Eden of intrinsic reading. My exploration of personal experience combined with research and school observations revealed three issues of note:

Reading Barriers and Solutions

*Barrier– Adults that do not enjoy reading for pleasure often struggle with the reading process or suffered a reading related “trauma” during their formative years.

*Solution-This will first require a“diagnosis” of the adults current reading level. This can be touchy if you are friend seeking to change a non-reading pal into a reader. Those that struggle with reading can feel stigmatized. An easy discussion that begins with why your friend doesn’t like to read is the safest starting point. From there try offering a variation of, “You know I really used to have a difficult time reading. I struggled with ______; do you ever struggle at all?” If the answer is “Yes” you can direct them to the Education Insider’s list of 5 excellent free sources for adult reading improvement. Improved reading fluency can build a desire to read.

*Barrier– We all learn differently, for this reason those that are more auditory or kinesthetic learners may be less likely to be readers for pleasure. Even visual learners can be stymied by the text only format of books.

*Solution– Meet this potential reader in their current realm of entertainment. Are they die-hard movie/television fans? Many shows were based on books or graphic novels. Share those with them and they may be hooked. Are they radio/mp3 hounds? No worries, there is now a huge selection of audiobooks available. Audiobooks can offer the auditory stimulated potential reader the enjoyment of books in a format that they find more palatable. Grab the kinesthetic learners with books about the activities they enjoy. Books that instruct them “how to” can blend together reading and their love of motion.

*Barrier– Many adults lament that they do not read for pleasure because they simply do not have the time; all of their “read-time” is reserved for work or scholastic endeavors.

*Solution– The time factor is always a tough nut to crack. It is not impossible though. For many of us our lives are schedule based and we tend to honor those schedules. Therefore reading time must be scheduled as well. Encourage not reading friends to join you one hour a week for a homegrown book club. Or if even this is too much start an online lit chat with your friends. This will allow non-readers to get some reading in small doses with the goal of building a desire. Desire to read mysteriously can help a reader find extra minutes for the activity in a tight schedule.

Though research offers that these solutions can help convert adult non-readers into readers for pleasure I feel duty bound to note that the best solution is to grab potential readers while they are young. Multiple reports from the National Middle School Association warn that the middle school years are when we lose potential readers. The tumult of middle school can leave those on the fence readers with a total loss of intrinsic desire to read. Therefore if you have children or know someone with children strike early to keep them in the reading camp. Give books as gifts. Even better give gift certificates to book stores as gifts so that young ones can choose their own reading adventures. Throw family friendly reading parties wherein friends can bring their progeny to enjoy reading related fun. And never discount the old perennial favorite of volunteering to read to a child or classroom. What a difference a great reader can make to a young person’s reading life and overall future.


The educational researcher Holden once offered that, “The path of a reader is not a runway but more a hack through a forest, with individual twists and turns, entanglements and moments of surprise.” This is a sentiment that I find both delightful and true, but, there are even greater rewards for the intrinsic desire to read. In The National Literacy Trust’s report Reading for Pleasure the following benefits were noted:

* increased community participation

* a better understanding of cultures

* increased general knowledge

* a greater insight into human nature and decision-making

These benefits alone should be a strong motivation for those of us in the “I love reading” club to go all out in an effort to convert our non-reading friends. As I look back on my beginnings as a reader I am thankful that I developed the desire to read for pleasure even though my upbringing could have dictated otherwise. I am thankful that I have shared that love with my children. Though I am not certain in which percentage this love of reading was transferred via genetics, example, or educational force I am certain that it will span a lifetime. I encourage you to have a look at your personal web and see whom you might entangle in a life-long love of reading. Loan them a book, share a literary website with them, show them an interesting author profile. Be it an adult friend or the children of adult friends let them know that there is a wise gray spider in the corner with a great story to share. You might just plant the seeds that grow a lifelong reader.

What steps have you taken so far to encourage other adults to read?


Ry Mas is a freelance writer that believes true communication can bring about positive change and that one should never stop learning. Ry draws from her experience as a parent, yoga instructor, educator, and theater geek to craft together works of fiction and non-fiction. It is her goal to entertain, encourage, and spark positive change. Ry holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and is completing her M.A.T. with an emphasis on secondary education. She is also founder of The Urban Ashram. Ry’s first book Evangeline is now available. You can follow her writing adventures at

Photo: Some rights reserved by dchousegrooves.