Transport Yourself Through the World of Literature
Whether going to Brazil, the beach, or just the backyard this summer, National Public Radio (NPR) Books has your reading needs covered with its Book Your Trip series. This special series features book lists organized by mode of transport, because “reading is all about the journey.”
There are twelve transport options to launch your summer trip: train, plane, car, bike, boat, foot, city transit, horse, balloon, rocketship, time and a miscellaneous category that includes drugs, dragons and giant peaches. If a transport-oriented book is missing, NPR welcomes suggestions in the comments section of the lists or via tweets to #bookyourtrip. The full story of how NPR created this transport filled book campaign can be found here.
To get you started on your literary transport journey, TheCityFix has compiled some of our favorite non-motorized mobility and active transport books from the series, summarized below by librarians, editors, authors, and critics.
By Cesar Aira
Novelist and translator César Aira is a prolific master of the novella. Varamo is centered on a low-level government employee of the same name. After collecting his monthly wages, Varamo realizes the bills are counterfeit. Confused and angry, he takes to the street, meeting a host of eccentric characters along the way. From these seemingly meaningless run-ins, he gathers the strange material for what will become a “celebrated masterpiece of modern Central American poetry.” With all its humor, intelligence and idiosyncrasy, Varamo is also a reminder that long walks — and what happens on said walks — often make for the most memorable experiences. (Juan Vidal, book critic)
By Antonio Skarmeta
Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta tells a fictional story of a postman who befriends the exiled (and real-life) poet Pablo Neruda. In the village of Isla Negra, off the coast of Chile, postal carrier Mario Jimenez delivers letters by bicycle to his literary hero. Loaded down with fan letters for Neruda, Jimenez rides a “cheery” Legnano bike that carries him “beyond the rather limited horizon of the fisherman’s bay” to Neruda’s home, which “seemed Babylonian in comparison to Mario’s own little hamlet.” As he is waiting to hear whether he has won the Nobel Prize for literature, Neruda helps the shy postman become a poet and win the heart of a local islander. (Mandalit del Barco, correspondent, Arts Desk)
By Pankaj Mishra
Pankaj Mishra published this book in the mid-1990s just as India was embarking on a set of economic reforms. In it, Mishra traveled mostly by bus across the country’s small towns: the Mandis, the Kottayams and the Pushkars; towns that many Indians in larger cities saw as insignificant little dots on the map. What he discovered was that these towns were shedding their long-held inferiority complexes just as India was flexing its own newly discovered self-confidence on the global stage. The characters Mishra describes (an aspiring model, a political thug, the oily businessman, the self-important officials, the bibliophile and others) provide a slice of India that’s as relevant today as it was when the book was first written. (Krishnadev Calamur, editor, NPR News)
By Daniel Clowes
Not many people find city buses romantic, but cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ coming-of-age tale features a true Magic Bus. First, it serves as a potent symbol of stasis by not existing at all, as its route has been canceled. Teenage protagonist Enid likes to make fun of a guy who always waits at the stop, seeing him as willfully embracing paralysis (and just plain weird). For Enid, a recent high school graduate desperate to escape the predictable futures that seem to be her only options, there’s nothing more pathetic than waiting for a dead bus. But when the bus begins running again, it proves to be her passage to salvation. At the book’s end she finally catches the mysterious bus and is carried off to the one place she desperately wants to go: an uncertain horizon. (Etelka Lehoczky, comics critic)
Do you have any books you love about urban transport? Let us know in the comments!
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