Context reading

The fabulous colonial Eastern&Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia where Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and Rudyard Kipling were frequent guests.

You know the term context drinking, don’t you? Ever noticed how that bottle of wine you share on a sun-drenched table perched on the cobblestone square of a charming little town in Tuscany or Provence tastes ever so much better than the same bottle you bring back home to drink in Peoria?

True, isn’t it?

Don’t you feel it’s the same with books? When I look back at books I love, I realize that I often associate them with where I was reading them, my mood at the time, how relaxed I was and – especially – if they helped to bring my surroundings to life.

Read Maugham’s 'Far Eastern Tales' on the edge of the E&O’s pool

I always bring a good book along with me when I’m travelling… and, because I still love the feel of a new book and its crisp pages and just can’t come to terms with the idea of an electronic device shoved in front of my face equating a state of relaxation, I still stick to the “traditional” variety.

When I travel, I look for books set in the places I’m visiting, so I read Across the River and Into The Trees and Death in Venice in Venice, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American in Saigon, Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance in Japan, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s’s Weep Not Child in Kenya, Far Eastern Tales in Malaysia and Love in the Time of Cholera in Colombia.

Take your pick of great Czech authors to read when you’re in Prague – Hrabal, Kohout, Klima, Havel, Kafka, Škvorecký and Kundera

These are books that have really stayed with me, because I was walking down the same streets as the characters, eating the same foods, hearing the same sounds, inhaling the same smells. They resonated with me and made me enjoy my travels even more. Whenever I think of those books, I think of the place where they take place.

What are your favourite books to pair with destinations? I’m always eager for new context reading suggestions!

Enjoy García Márquez’ books in his hometown - lovely Cartagena, Colombia.


  1. A sense of place « kimberlysullivan on April 27, 2012 at 6:38 am

    […] of place  is so important to me as an author. Also as a reader. As I wrote in a previous post, Context reading , when I travel, I make an effort to take along novels  set in my destination. It helps the […]

  2. Summer Holiday Reading | kimberlysullivan on August 2, 2013 at 7:04 am

    […] I wrote about my penchant for context reading in an earlier post. […]

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