Home, with Aaron James' 'Surfing With Sartre'

This book is a banger for when you've woken up late on one of your many days off, are sitting on the balcony in the sun and contemplating whether or not to hit the waves now or later. Quash any sense of guilt with the sound rational of a surfing philosopher. Alternatively, you might need this even more if you're struggling to find time to read anything within the demands of your forty plus hour work week.

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Ireland with Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels

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The tragedy of Jonathan Swift’s legacy is that his most famous work Gulliver’s Travels has been immortalised by the woeful Jack Black film adaptation. Don’t mention this atrocity to the Irish. They rankle at the merest mention. They also pronounce ‘film’ using two syllables: /fil-um/ but that’s another issue.

Gulliver’s Travels is undeniably odd.. On surface level, it’s the story of Gulliver who finds himself visiting strange lands, where he is a giant, another where he is miniscule, and another where talking horses reign. He manages to escape back home each time, and swears that he will never leave the safety of home again. Later that day, he sets out from the safety of home, and ends up somewhere more bizarre than the previous trip.

But in reality, the story is a lot deeper than it seems. It is actually a satire of human nature, and Swift is questioning how people become corrupted and do bad things to one another. And here is why you must read it whilst in Ireland. It is a nation still in chaos. The tension between Britain and Ireland is still very real. The IRA may be gone, but the struggle remains. Belfast is still a city split down the middle by a wall as figurative as it is literal. The kind of beer or whiskey they sell in a pub indicates whether it’s English or Irish. And you wouldn’t be caught dead in the wrong kind of pub.

This was already an issue when Swift was writing in the 17th century. His previous work sarcastically recommended to his people that they kill and eat their children at 12 months old, because the English were treating the Irish like animals, and so the they ought to be eaten as such. It’s sarcasm is disturbing. As are the recipes he provides in graphic detail. Explicitly pointing out the mistreatment from the English would have had him killed. And possibly eaten.

Although Gulliver’s Travels takes place in a fantasy world the concerns about oppression and human unkindness which Swift is investigating is just as tangible in Ireland today. Ultimately, it’s easy to read, wildly imaginative and causes you to think hard about humanity.

If you missed all this from Jack Black’s film, that’s not your fault.

-Tim Clarke

 

"Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old." 

Havana with Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea

Hemingway’s escapades, chasing macho kicks around the globe, mean that he has a quiver full of stories that tie him to many of the world’s must see places. Out of all his writing though, The Old Man and the Sea, would have to stand as his most iconic.

And Cuba is definitely a woman.

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Rwanda with Philip Gourevitch's We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families

Like the land, the people of Rwanda are resilient, varied and welcoming. On the one hand, Rwanda is a breadbasket of Edenic proportions. On the other, it is a place of toil. The rich, rugged soil carries many of the scars of its past, also etched paradoxically into the smiling faces of its people. 

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Bristol & The Open Sea with Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'

The history of Bristol is always so present and available, it's one of my favourite places to explore. So when you find yourself en route to Bristol, be sure to have Treasure Island close by. With it's rich maritime history and harbour position on the Avon river right near the ocean, it's no wonder Bristol is the setting in which this adventure begins.

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Morocco with Dave Eggers - You shall know our velocity

Reading Eggers’ prose is like a pressure on my chest. A welcome antidote to comfort. There are many reasons why people leave their comfort zones. Often it’s because what was once comfortable no longer feels comfortable. That’s kind of the premise of this book. Once again, Eggers articulates the heart’s confusion, both capturing the drive to escape and inspiring it.

This novel traverses much of the globe as it traces the philanthropic stumbling of the two main characters, bent on freeing themselves of the burden of some acquired cash and a painful memory. What took me to Morocco was kind of similar and that’s why this book stands as my required reading when in North Africa. Recently separated, my heart in tatters, I felt compelled to throw myself into exotic locales and see how I handled it. Death or growth, either sounded tempting. Recklessly, I cast myself over the ledge of Atlantic freight trains as they reeled off for hundreds of metres down impossibly long Moroccan points. Ever since seeing the surf film Sipping Jetstreams I had imagined myself climbing those fractured cliffs in the fading gold of the evening. Remnants of an endless liquid canvas would drop from my soggy frame onto the cracked desert. Needless to say, I had romanticised it. Happy to say, it lived up to it.

Morocco is varied. What you experience on the coast is different to the inner cities, mountains and desert. Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square in Marrakesh. It caters to all your snake charming and monkey jiving needs. If you long to get truly lost then step into the labyrinth of laneways that make up the souq (marketplace) bordering the square. Wandering rows and rows of claustrophobic lanes and passageways, it truly feels at times that your only way out may be to buy a magic rug and blast through the canvas roof. Make time to sip tea with the Berber locals and buy some of their wares. When it all becomes too much, flee to one of the rooftop restaurants and watch the sun dip over the square and the weirdness unfold below. For a real treat, head to a bathhouse and be scrubbed to within an inch of your life. A hilarious little Welsh man I met whilst their described the experience best. Standing in his undies whilst a woman hurled buckets of water at him, he turned to me and said, ‘It’s like being in The Shawshank Redemption.’

For me this novel flawlessly catches the horrors and triumphs of travel. Frustrating limitations that leave you bewildered that teleportation hasn’t been invented yet. Seemingly imminent danger that subsides, leaving you feeling more alive and sure of why you are somewhere unfamiliar. It’s a reminder that leaving isn’t always running away and that getting lost can be a pretty good way of finding something. There’s no real strong moral here. I think that’s why I like it so much. Travel won’t solve your problems but it will change you. Most of the time, that’s enough.