Reading on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico © Emma Sparks
When I was younger, I used to devour books. Then a degree in English Literature and French – where I’d often be required to finish and analyse two or three novels a week – decimated my appetite for reading. After a couple of years off, I began reading again, taking my time, often taking months to complete a book (Sapiens, I’m looking at you). But after a recent stint of reading profusely on the road, I’m ready to become a bookworm once again.
I always pack a paperback for my jaunts (not a Kindle convert… yet) and for four months in Central America I squeezed five books into my backpack, making the most of glorious hostel bookswaps to acquire the rest. Travel and stories are simply a natural match. Here are the tales that rekindled my love of reading.
Books I read while travelling in Central America
Fallen Children at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala © Emma Sparks
Genre: Young adult fiction
Good for: Fans of The Midwich Cuckoos
Where I read it: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
An ex-colleague of mine wrote a book. (Two, actually. The first is called Panther). I am of course, infinitely impressed – while also supressing major envy of his novelist status. Needless to say, his ability to craft captivating fantasy and science fiction (that even appeals to those who never usually read fantasy or science fiction) is top notch. Go buy his books!
Good for: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale
Where I read it: On buses between Mayan ruins in Mexico
I studied Atwood at A-level and have always loved her feminist themes. Dancing Girls and Other Stories is a collection of short stories narrated by a host of different female characters, covering relationships, loneliness, stalking and even a couples’ trip to a Mayan ruin – a wild coincidence, considering where I was at the time!
Big Little Lies at Funky Dodo Hostel, Belize © Emma Sparks
Genre: Chick lit
Good for: Fans of the TV series
Where I read it: In a Belizean beach shack on a rainy day
I always prefer to read stories before watching any big- or small-screen adaptations (books are always best!), but in this case, the mysterious California-glam TV series Big Little Lies spurred me on to pick up this dog-eared paperback from a bookswap shelf. It’s a easy read and I’m a total sucker for whodunnits.
Good for: London lovers; readers looking for quality writing
Where I read it: On shuttle buses around Guatemala
Zadie (word)Smith nestled her way into the shelves of my heart with NW, a story set around Willesden and Kilburn, where I lived when I first moved to London. Swing Time had other touchpoints for me, like childhood friendships, dancing and travelling the world. This woman can write, and I have two other Smith titles on my bedside table ready and waiting for me already.
Love With a Chance of Drowning, Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua © Emma Sparks
Genre: Travel memoir
Good for: Romantics, travel lovers, risk-averse wannabe adventurers
Where I read it: Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua
I’ve been meaning to read Torre’s first book since it came out (see intro for why I never got around to it) so I was thrilled to find it in a hostel in León, Nicaragua. Her experiences of love and adventure were a delight to discover and as someone who is a rather fearful traveller herself, I could relate.
Genre: Travel memoir
Good for: An outsider’s perspective of the Nicaraguan Revolution
Where I read it: León, Nicaragua
My introduction to Rushdie was unusual (he’s known for his fiction), but this account of his trip to Nicaragua in the 1980s enriched my understanding of the nation. I travelled there for beaches and volcanoes rather than history or politics, but I’d recommend gaining a basic understanding of the Nicaraguan Revolution to anyone.
What Alice Forgot, Playa Maderas © Emma Sparks
Genre: Chick lit
Good for: An easy read with a happy ending
Where I read it: Playa Maderas after a failed surf lesson, Nicaragua
After Big Little Lies, I couldn’t resist picking up another Moriarty – this time, a tale about a woman who wakes up having lost 10 years-worth of memories. She’s divorcing the man she loves, but she simply cannot remember why… Another page turner.
Good for: Fans of The Daily Show
Where I read it: On the beach in Jamaica
Funny man Noah recalls his childhood growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. From his confusing racial identity to first dates and entrepreneurial debacles, this coming-of-age memoir is full of wisdom as well as wisecracks.
I am Malala, in Jamaica © Emma Sparks
Good for: Everyone. Everyone should know this girl’s story
Where I read it: By the pool in Jamaica
Finally I found the time to swot up on all things Malala. After reading her balanced account of life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and perspective on the trauma she’s experienced, I was pleased to see that Malala recently returned to her beloved home nation (albeit not in ideal circumstances) – something she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to do.
Genre: Historical fiction
Good for: Insight into Jamaican politics, gang violence and language
Where I read it: In a hammock in Jamaica
Duppy. Ting. Bombo cloth. Marlon James swings between Jamaican dialect (that last example is a naughty word, shhhh) and American English with ease in this historical fiction spanning decades and oceans. It’s a heavy 700-pager requiring keen investment – and it’s violent from the outset.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links – so if you decide to purchase any of my recommendations, I’ll get a teensy commission, at no extra cost to you!