Sometimes when the reality of life is just too much to handle, we search for a means of escape. And what better way to escape than by opening a book? Books can be pure escapism when they need to be, whether we have the travel bug and want to read about traveling to real places, or whether we want to really escape into worlds that don’t even exist in this world.
Since I want to include the real and the non-real, I have two books that provide that escapism you may be looking for. Obviously there are many books out there that you can read, but these two are a couple of my favorites.
Betsy and the Great World – Maud Hart Lovelace
I’ve talked before about how much I love the Betsy-Tacy books, especially the later ones when Betsy is in high school and older. The penultimate book in the series, Betsy and the Great World, takes place in 1914 after Betsy finishes high school and decides to travel the “great world” before setting off to college and marriage and all that fun stuff. It’s what every student wants to do before entering the real world, and Betsy does it with her usual flair and fancy, making this a totally fun book to escape into.
Among the many places in Europe to which Betsy travels is Sonneberg, Germany; regions of Bavaria in Germany; Lucerne, Switzerland; Paris, France; and extended stays in Venice and London. Her stay in London was quite exciting, given it was the outbreak of World War I, and Betsy didn’t even know if she was going to make it back home to Minnesota. But of course Betsy being Betsy, she was positive and joyful about the whole thing. Because she’s awesome.
Topping the trip around the Great World with boat excursions to The Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar, Algiers, and Genoa, Betsy’s adventures in travel are a great way of going on a little trip yourself, while at the same time feeling kinda jealous because you didn’t get to do the same thing when you were 21 years old.
“Guided tours are all right for some people, but not for a writer. I ought to stay in just two or three places. Really live in them, learn them. Then if I want to mention London, for example, in a story, I would know the names of the streets and how they run and the buildings and the atmosphere of the city. I could move a character around in London just as though it were Minneapolis. I don’t want to hurry from place to place with a party the way Julia did.”
The Neverending Story – Michael Ende
I had seen this movie years and years ago (and had nightmares because of it), but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s when I finally read the book…and realized that the book was totally better! Don’t get me wrong, the movie is pretty awesome, but it only covers the first half of what happens in the book. So much more adventure is had in the book, making it a perfect read for those times you want to get away from reality (and you don’t want to trudge through 1000+ pages of Lord of the Rings again).
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the story starts off in reality with a boy – Bastian – who lives a pretty crappy life…at least until he discovers a book called The Neverending Story which magically sucks him right into the book. Like, literally. Like Tom-Riddle’s-Diary-style. Bastian actually becomes part of the story.
What follows is one hell of an adventure story that includes lots of travel. Through the eyes of our new hero Bastian (and the hottie Atreyu), we get to visit places like Fantastica, Amarganth, Spook City, The Desert of Colors, The Fog Sea, The Grassy Ocean, The Silver Mountains, the Swamps of Sadness, The Howling Forest, and many other crazy places that can only exist in our imaginations. The Neverending Story is a beautifully written book that many people overlook, but I promise you it’ll be a great adventure.
‘I wonder,’ he said to himself, ‘what’s in a book while it’s closed. Oh, I know it’s full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story with people I don’t know yet and all kinds of adventures, deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut in a book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it’s already there, that’s the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be.’