Traveling is obviously a great way to see the world and gain a wider exposure on the different cultures past and present. As joyful and rewarding as traveling may be, reading a good story is no less so. Literature brings the world to the comfort of our hands to entertain and enlighten us through well-crafted stories of people, places and wisdom.
The same way we can travel to countless destinations, books also come from hundreds of countries by millions of people. Thus, opening a book is not just a journey to different realms but also a conversation with the greatest of minds that have left their refined intellectual print in this ever-changing world. Following are few of the limitless wonders of literature that either expose a social misconception, unveil a true story, express a political stance, share a personal experience, or teach a spiritual wisdom.
In 1997, Canadian writer Robin Sharma publishes his work The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Up to this day, more and more people are still reading this enlightening book and enjoying the wisdom in every page. The story of Julian Mantle and his extraordinary journey to find his potential, purpose, and peace of mind is the path we all want to tread on to find ourselves and true calling. Mantle explores an ancient culture to learn how to weather the storms of modern life. Besides the wisdom he finds through this journey, the successful lawyer Julian Mantle teaches the reader how important it is to look back and appreciate the wisdom of the past to find the way in the now.
From Canada to Turkey, Elif Shafak publishes her book The Forty Rules of Love in 2010. What she shares with her peer Robin Sharma is a mesmerizing storytelling gift that endows a similar tale of wisdom and peace. Shafak also explores the ancient world to learn how to tread in the more and more challenging present. When everything seems to be perfect, a sense of emptiness urges Ella to question her reality. A manuscript carries her to the 13th century to explore a life of utter love she never knew existed. Enlightened by the forty rules of life and love unveiled by Sufi poet Rumi following his encounter with Shams of Tabriz, Ella embarks on her own journey to meet the author of this fascinating manuscript and experience a love so fulfilling that it has remained and will remain so powerful for centuries.
Not so far from Turkey, Rajaa Alsanea defies social barriers in Saudi Arabia to put to paper the story of four young women, Girls of Riyadh, and share it with the world in 2005. Alsanea gives her women protagonists a shattering voice in a silenced women community, a voice breaching taboos to echo the love experiences, career successes, rebellious spirits, frustrations, and personal struggles often neglected and undervalued by Saudi men and by the world. This story is a peak into the life of Saudi women and an account of women experiences and feelings that are no different from their counterparts around the world. Alsanea steps outside traditions to expose the truth that within the realm of such tight traditions, a life thriving with dreams, hopes, love, struggles, disappointments and excitement is happening just like within the communities and traditions of the rest of the world.
If Rajaa Alsanea challenges traditions, American-German poet and novelist Charles Bukowski shatters them altogether. In Women, 1978, Bukowski conveys his personal experiences through semi-autobiographical character Henry Chinaski, who leads an alcoholic life accompanied by an insatiable desire for women. Bukowski’s account of a blatant life lived on the edge is so well written and crafted with a hilarious sense of sarcasm and irony that manifests at the end of the story leaving the reader more or less bewildered. While Shafak and Sharma draw the wisdom from centuries-old tales and people, the wit in Bukowski’s writings is inspired by the irony and absurdism of modern life lived and witnessed at the same time.
Now back to Egypt, Naguib Mahfouz also exposes the degenerate life of modern times in his epic tale Adrift on the Nile, 1966. The book is an existential account of a life marked by nihilism and spiritual emptiness following the drastic social changes that befell the modern world following two appalling world wars. Anis Zani smokes Kief to escape reality with a group of friends seeking the same goal. They meet on a houseboat on the Nile to share their daily experiences and social observations. Through their discussions, Mahfouz exposes the hypocrisy and corruption of the social and political life beneath the embellished façade at the core of post war world. Having won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, Mahfouz is a writer no one would want to miss as his works carry core social and political weight.
Talking about and discussing books can drag for thousands of lines and pages. As much as there are genius authors and enlightening books, every book carries more of that enlightenment and genius. Nothing complements traveling like books for a genuine insight into our world and our life. Visiting new countries and cities always reveals the beauty and wonders of our world. Similarly, meeting new authors and reading more books instill in us the timeless wisdom, limitless perceptions, deep insights, clear vision and motivating intellect from countless past centuries up to this very day. World travel in a good pair of shoes and time travel in better pair of books. The more pages you count, the more your time will count. Never stop reading.