Books to Read on The Road

Tab writers’ recommendations of books to read when travelling, camping or killing hours.

Anna Sheinman D.H Lawrence David Holland Gravity's Rainbow Joe Conway John Masefield Lady Chatterley's Lover Lauren Earnshaw Oonagh O'Hagan snood Tabatha Leggett Thomas Pynchon

Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon

Gravity’s Rainbow is the single greatest work of art the human mind has ever produced – it is the absolute pinnacle of what man can achieve. The plot is nearly impossible to summarise, it’s just too dense; in essence though it’s a post-modern tale of an American GI traveling around war torn Europe and his quest to understand his childhood ties to the German V2 program and its relation to his cock… Zany.

Through out the travels we are introduced to around 400 characters and important points are made about the nature of the mind, of love, of bondage, of death and about the certainty of our own autonomy. Read it whilst traveling, you will be inspired to steal dope from bureaucrats and to dress as local pig hero; be warned though you will almost certainly develop a creeping sense of paranoia and realise that your own identity is slipping further and further away.


The State of Africa – Martin Meredith

When backpacking through West Africa, English language books were bartered between fellow travellers on a strict hierarchy system. The more answers a book gave as to what the hell was going on in this crazy continent the more valuable. The State of Africa was top of the heap.

A history of Africa since independence: from Ghana in 1957, where Nkrumah, still worshipped there as a demi-god taking a resource rich country and leaving it in ruins, to EU trade barriers crippling Africa’s emerging markets. Through Idi Amin, Lumumba and Haile Selassie, Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Algeria, massacre, rape, torture and famine. In 700 pages of countries enslaved, extorted and then left to rot by the colonial powers, of Big Men and their cruelty, corruption and war mongering, of Western support prolonging bloody African conflicts, of misdirected foreign aid, and the greed of the IMF, World Bank, EU and the US, one slowly comes to understand how Africa came to be as shattered as it appeared before us. Compelling, upsetting, and it’s all our fault.


Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover might be the most famous of D.H. Lawrence’s novels, if only for its once-unprintable language and shockingly explicit descriptions of sex. It’s certainly my favourite.

Nowadays, we’re used to reading about sex, but this novel is memorable for precisely this reason: its sensitive and frank descriptions were simply unheard of at its time of writing. In fact, although Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published in 1928, it wasn’t published openly in the UK until 1960 for fear of public outrage.

It tells the story of a young, upper-class, woman and her affair with the gamekeeper of her paralysed and impotent husband’s estate. Lawrence is a wonderfully lyrical writer, and presents his belief that men and women must overcome the restrictions of society and follow their natural instincts towards passionate love just perfectly.

The storyline is engaging, emotional and intense, and the novel is underpinned by a sense of urgency. This combination is simply enchanting and guarantees a thoroughly thought-provoking and entertaining read.


I Lick My Cheese – edited by Oonagh O’Hagan

For the vast majority this year was a first taste of living with strangers, and the experiences that come with it, from kitchen chaos (some quite notorious; I have often picked my way across the remnants of what was undoubtedly a fantastic midnight cooking fest the following morning), to late-night get-togethers that actually make you glad you’ve lived with family all these years.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, then you’ll love “I Lick My Cheese” for trips with hours to kill: a collection of post-it and other notes left by housemates, and completed by Oonagh’s own observations. Split into sections from the bedroom (a must for those who’ve been blessed with a neighbour who enjoys a noisy ‘nightlife’), to shared living spaces, it’s guaranteed to strike a chord and leave you laughing, as well as making you appreciate your current neighbours much more. My advice therefore? Read this book; and maybe try licking your cheese too.


The Box of Delights – John Masefield

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A schoolboy travelling on a steamtrain, a phoenix rising out of the ashes, two wizards locked in mortal combat. Plus pictures that move in their frames, and a flying car. No, it’s not Harry, Dumbledore, and er You-Know-Who post 1997. It’s Kay Harker, Cole Hawlings and Abner Brown circa 1935!

The book is The Box of Delights, and the writer one-time poet laureate John Masefield. This isn’t to say that Joanne Rowling was actively plagiarising, but she’s certainly ‘indebted’ to a tradition that also includes Narnia and The Hobbit. The Box predates them all and for me it’s the unequivocal best, a children’s book which is more profound than most adult novels. Read it for its cosy feelgood factor, but also for its stream-of-consciousness literary style, its freedom to travel in time and space, and its evocation of an England that’s almost disappeared. All delivered in Masefield’s beautiful prose which constantly borders on the poetic.