8 great books for escapism (even when you can't leave the house)

By Anna Prendergast

Mar 20, 2020

Just because flights are cancelled, it doesn’t mean escapism is, too

Storytelling has transported us for millennia, and we shouldn’t forget the value of it. Whether you want distraction, discovery or drama, these books take you to places all across the globe from Argentina to Orkney.

1. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Whilst travelling in Uruguay, a young teacher rescues a penguin from an oil slick, and names him Juan Salvador. This true story follows Tom’s mission to rehabilitate the bird and get him back to the ocean via coastal road trips, bribery and sheer seat-of-his-pants charm amid the politics of 1970s Argentina. Despite the book only being published in 2015, Michell’s writing style has a rather enchantingly old-fashioned lilt to it (but remains incredibly easy reading), and the book is scattered with Tolkien poetry and historical references.

2. The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

A fascinating deep-dive into the musical bones of a country we tend to know little about, by one of the best travel writers in the business. The Lost Pianos of Siberia explores the lengths people have gone to throughout history to maintain the arts – in particular, music – in a cold, harsh country where maintaining anything is a huge challenge. Sophy’s nose for a story told in her signature poetic prose proves that sometimes reality is more fantastical than fiction.

3. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Raynor Winn dispels any myths that travel requires big plans, big suitcases and big budgets – just big-sky thinking. After she and her terminally ill husband lost their livelihoods, they set out to walk the length of the UK’s coast with nothing but a small backpack each, no home to return to, no family to rely on and no money in the bank. It’s a stoic survival tale, a reminder of what’s really important and how healing nature can be. 

4. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Reading this is a little like running your fingertips over Amy’s scars – you can’t help but wince with her pain sometimes. But you can also feel the sea air in her lungs and the wet ocean spray on her face, as she navigates a new life in the raggedy Orkney Islands just off Scotland. It’s a gorgeous love note to the landscape, simultaneously tracing her recovery from a life in London that could have had any one of us fleeing north.

5. North Korea Journal by Michael Palin

If you watched the documentary series on BBC that traces the same trip, you’ll know that Michael’s usual winning formula – a big smile that takes even the steeliest interviewees off guard, and charm by the buckethat – didn’t get him as far as usual. But his careful probing and gentle observations of a country that is at once suffocated by suppression and highly-functioning make for an eye-opening account with a level of humanity that often gets lost in the headlines.

6. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

When a small child is left to fend for herself accompanied by nothing but butterflies, seagulls and water, the survival skills she develops take you on an astonishing journey into human resilience, loneliness and longing. Her home, a marsh in North Carolina, at once suppresses and frees Kya as she finds her way, and Delia Owens calls upon the power of place to challenge everything you thought you knew about ‘Marsh Girl’.

7. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Part business manifesto, part memoir, part investigation into the way we live and work in the 21st century, Yvon Chouinard unravels the success of his outdoor sports brand, Patagonia.  From the first hand-made climbing picks to the mass-production of their most successful lines, it’s an honest, imperfect story that shines a light on both the mistakes they made and the triumphs, and asks all the right questions.

8. On a Shoestring to Coorg by Dervla Murphy

On a Shoestring is a refreshingly straightforward account of Dervla Murphy’s experience of southern India on a trip with her five year old daughter. Resolutely refusing to romanticise India’s flaws or be intimidated by its scale, she writes with a dry humour and frankness that travel logs often lack. Her daughter plays a large part in boiling down any sentimentality with a childlike directness - when asked who her favourite God is, she responds; “Ganesh. He has such a nice fat tummy.”

Got a recommendation? Or just wanna chat literature? Email anna@luxurylondon.co.uk with ‘LL BOOK CLUB’ in the subject line.