When you can’t board a plane, buy a book. Stories can send you places you’ve always wanted to go and to spaces you never figured you’d set foot in. They can shoot you high into the clouds, aloft on the wings of an all-knowing narrator, or drop you deep into the roiling psyche of a complicated character. A narrative can whisk you to Moldova or Mars, Djibouti or the moons of Jupiter.
If you’re homebound or sad about the loss of summer travel, these seven books (all written by women) can make you feel like you’re seeing the world anyway.
We asked our friends at By The Way, The Washington Post’s travel initiative, to give us quick tips to pair with some of the books that will help you conjure the feeling of that destination.
May you read happily, and let your imagination carry you away.
To feel like you live in rural Denmark, read:
“The Year of Living Danishly,” by Helen Russell
Helen Russell was a lifestyle writer in London, living unhappily. When her husband got a job at Lego — which began in Denmark and is headquartered there — the pair moved to that country, specifically a rural area in Jutland. She set out to understand why the Danes are so happy and what can be learned from their way of life.
One quick tip: Hop on your bike, run errands and explore your own neighborhood, like the Danes do. Copenhagen city expert Lisa Abend says it’s really the only way to get around in the city.
To feel like you’re roaming the halls of a creepy mansion in the Mexican countryside, read:
“Mexican Gothic,” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemí Taboada is 22, living in Mexico City in the ’50s and yearning to go to college and study anthropology. Her father grudgingly says fine — but first she must make a visit to her cousin living in the countryside. What she finds there is chilling. Her cousin, Catalina, believes she’s prey to poisoning (by her husband) and haunting (by ghosts in the house). Book critic Carol Memmott called the book a “feminist horror novel” in The Washington Post.
One quick tip: Mexico City writer Allegra Ben-Amotz recommends trying a carajillo. It’s an old-school, working-class coffee cocktail you can make at home with espresso and Licor 43 (a vanilla-flavored spirit infused with 43 herbs and spices), shaken over ice.
To feel as if you’re tasting France, read:
“My Life in France,” by Julia Child
Chef Julia Child transported French cooking to American kitchens. But first, she had to learn the cuisine. Her autobiography tracks her time living in the country and her journey from being a “rather loud and unserious Californian” with very little knowledge of France or its fare to being an American master of French food.
One quick tip: Paris expert Jennifer Padjemi recommends listening to Aya Nakamura, the French-Malian singer who broke chart records with her album “Nakamura” and made the hit “Djadja,” the song for every French party and one perfect to dance to in your living room.
To feel like you’re crossing the rugged landscape of Central Texas, read:
“Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here,” by Nancy Wayson Dinan
Boyd Montgomery’s best friend is missing. So, she sets out to find him. But this isn’t a simple search — Central Texas is overrun with rain and flash floods, so Boyd must navigate the waterlogged back country to find her friend. She isn’t flying solo; her mother and neighbor later join the search party.
One quick tip: Breakfast tacos are classically Austin, writer Omar Gallaga says. Pile a tortilla high with eggs, cheese and meat and top with salsa.
To feel like you’re in Antigua taking a clear-eyed look at its history, read:
“A Small Place,” by Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid grew up in Antigua, and this slim book is both a history of that place and a polemic against the Caribbean island’s colonization. The book was published in 1988 — only seven years after Antigua and sister island Barbuda became autonomous; previously, both islands had been colonized by the British.
One quick tip: Taste the flavors of the island. Fungee and pepperpot is the national dish of Antigua. Fungee is a mixture of okra and corneal; pepperpot is a meat stew. Here’s a fungee recipe to try.
To feel like you’re meandering through Italy, read:
“See You in the Piazza,” by Frances Mayes
If you are a fan of rom-coms and/or Diane Lane, you may be familiar with the film “Under the Tuscan Sun.” That movie was based on a memoir written by Frances Mayes, whom Lane portrays in the film. In “See You in the Piazza,” Mayes and her husband explore 13 regions in Italy. The New York Times called reading it “a vacation in itself.”
One quick tip: Transport yourself to Rome with this bruschetta recipe from By The Way writer Erica Firpo: Dice up tomatoes and put in bowl with sliced garlic cloves (leaving at least one clove whole), a pinch of salt and pepper, and mix with olive oil. Rub your fresh, toasted bread with a whole garlic clove, put the tomato mixture on top, and eat.
To feel as if you’re traveling from a big city in India to a small town in Kashmir, read:
“The Far Field,” by Madhuri Vijay
After her mother dies, Shalini, the grieving protagonist who hails from a wealthy family in Bangalore, finds her way to Kashmir to search for a traveling salesman with whom she believes her mom had an affair. The people she encounters force her to reckon with her privilege and contend with tragedy.
One quick tip: Have a dosa for breakfast. The full-flavored dish is traditionally filled with potatoes and made with a fermented batter. Find a recipe here.