Ten books in your heart, ten books in your backpack

Tell me what you read. The Tiny Book

This comes from the nomination, originally in Italian #Dimmicosaleggi

#10libri da portarsi nel rifuggio del cuore.


Eli Sunday Siyabi, a normal person who one day turned into a blogger, decided I would make a good candidate for her list of weird bloggers… those who travel leaving everything behind and find the time to read. You don’t need much to guess I read: just look at the name of my tiny blog. It is a statement, I carry books inside my heart. In my purse. In my Kindle.

The rule is simple, just one:

Make a list of ten books you would take to a Siberian shelter.
Why those and not others?

Let’s say it as it is: I would never go to a Siberian shelter. I’d love to ride on the Trans-Siberian train, but that would be it. I’d take pictures from the train, I’d write on the train, and I’d try to stay inside the train as much as possible. I hate cold weather, snow, skiing, and all that’s in any way related to Winter.

Eli, do you want to make me happy? Let’s say I’m taking these books to a desert South Pacific island, a Greek island, the Caribbean… Deal? (You hate Winter as much as I do, I know it’s a deal!).

Ok… about the number. I can’t take ten books! Come on… I got a Kindle right because of that. At least not with some authors. It’s just pure utopia. I can’t. Some authors come with me in sagas, others in trilogies, and a few just with a book. It’s a necessity.

A confession: Mine was originally a list of classics. It contained all works by Shakespeare, Borges and other monsters of literature. But no! stop and rewind: I’m not taking all classics to an island. The agreement does not say I’m staying on the island for ever. So I started the list again…


Tell me what you read. The Tiny Book


One: Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Yes, I start by cheating… This is a classic, but I first read this one when I was fourteen. Since then it became an annual must. I read it once a year, every year, no matter what. I love the structure, the circle that opens and closes in full perfection. That strange magic surrounding the heat and aura of the Colombian atmosphere. It’s a book that makes a traveler travel yet not moving. Your trip is a slow motion one, you travel in time, in conflict and in human emotions, never knowing what can happen next. There are new details also when you open it for the hundredth time. My favorite book of all times. 

“What does he say?’ he asked.
‘He’s very sad,’ Úrsula answered, ‘because he thinks that you’re going to die.’
‘Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”  Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Two: Jorge Luis Borges,  The Aleph 

Another classic, I know. This book is amazing, each of the stories it has, opens a new Universe of awe and inspiration. His idea of writing was simple: Why say something in 500 pages when you can say so in just 5? Master of the short story, gravitating around transcendental themes of life, I admire his work so much he was the subject of my Doctoral Thesis. Why this book in particular? It contains what I consider two of his best short stories:

The House of Asterion (see my post on Heraklion), which wisely plays with the Cretan myth of the Minotaur.

Averroes’ Search, a story developed as a labyrinth of words in which the main characters cannot see the truth in front of their own eyes (if you are a freak about Rhetoric, you will love it!).

He was argentine, like me. I used to study in the same library where he worked when he was young. There’s something undefined I can share with him. I understand his prose, I feel it mine, intimate, full of my history. It’s like reading a piece of my own idiosyncrasy. It’s like taking a part of my homeland everywhere I go. If you never read Borges before, The Aleph is a good starting point.

“I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library.”  Jorge Luis Borges, Poems of the Gifts (This poem and its background story might break your heart).

Three: J.R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

A classic, a classic again… I’m hopeless! What can I do?

This is the travel book, I guess… What’s more travel-like than four friends without a fixed travel plan and no booked shelter? Going on an unknown adventure. There’s just the road ahead, and the intention of arriving. As in life. A book with so many reading layers that provides me with courage when in real need. Fantasy, adventure, dreams, friendship. Courage, strength and fears to defeat. Life itself…

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

Four: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The essence of travel books. Just for children? one might wonder. Not at all. Leaving the safety of one’s home to explore the unknown is something not everyone dares to do. Mostly when you don’t even know if you’ll ever find the means to return. If more adults were able to read this book over and over, life would be easier, simpler, a bit more honest. This book never fails to remind me a hat is not always a hat. And elephants can hide in the most unthinkable places.

“But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.

Five: Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

Reading this book marked a turning point in my life, a learning experience. I understood I always feel young despite my age: youth is mental, age is physical. It taught me to look for awe in everyday things. Beauty lies in the simplest experiences of life, right there is where happiness dwells. I learnt a human becomes a person only by being free, because freedom is its natural state.  Zorba teaches that inaction is a waste of life, one must live life with extreme passion.

I became more Zorba than I already was after reading this. What would Zorba do now? is a recurrent question I put to myself when in doubt. Yet, and for me, the most valuable lesson is this one: it’s never too late to make a change. “…there is only one life for all men…there is no other…all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here.”

“You have everything but one thing: madness. A man needs a little madness or else – he never dares cut the rope and be free.” Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek.


Tell me what you read. The Tiny Book


Six: Tiziano Terzani, A Fortune-Teller Told Me

This Italian journalist, a blogger of the seventies, when blogging did not even exist, was an intrepid journalist. Full of courage and with a gigantic open soul. You read this book with your heart first, with your eyes later. The stories of war and despair seem less harsh through his smile. It definitely increased my thirst for wanderlust, but with a purpose. My goal changed. I am not traveling the world just for the sake of it. I want to tell a meaningful story. I want to leave a tiny sign and make a difference. I don’t mind how small it might be. Life without a purpose, travel without a reason are not part of my plans anymore.

“Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a teahouse watching the passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread – a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you have just met – and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity.” Tiziano Terzani, A fortune-teller told me.

Seven: Sujata Maasey, The Sleeping Dictionary

When I bought this book I had low expectations and a few dollars to spare on my Kindle account, its cover draw my attention and the word “dictionary”, being a translator myself, definitely made me click on “Buy”.

It was a surprise. It made me desire India with all my heart. You get to know its history and the reasons of its present through the desperate life of a girl. A girl that grows into a woman with a thousand names and a thousand terrible stories. A book that can break your heart and open your eyes at the same time. Excellent prose and hard to put down. It took me less than two days to finish it and countless months to erase this story off my mind. Never could. A book I would read again without any doubt, always with the same eagerness: I want to know more.

“Remember this! It is never an entire people who is cruel; it is merely individuals who exert their will on others.” Sujata Maasey, The Sleeping Dictionary.

Eight: David Lodge, Small World

(As it’s only 10 books, and being this one part of The Campus Trilogy, I’m taking the second one. I leave home Changing Places and Nice Work)

If you’ve ever been part of the academic world, this book is a blast! Fun, witty and so well written you can laugh for hours. British humour at its best! If you had also the pleasure to belong into the funny, little world of Literary Critics, pour yourself glass of wine and simply enjoy. The wise David Lodge sees it all and portrays it with outstanding irony and amazing wording. Lots of travel involved. And tons of laugh. If your backpack still has room; or your Kindle some empty bytes, just buy all his work. He is one of the greatest writers of our times.

“It’s the only thing that keeps me going these days, travelling. Changes of scene, changes of faces.” David Lodge, Small World.

Nine: Stephen King, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft

I don’t enjoy scary books, scary movies, scary stories. And we tend to associate King to Carrie or The Shining or eve some book with weird-looking clowns on their cover. That’s not my type of reading. Still, we must recognize that this man has sold his share. And has earned his place on the list of most read authors. You don’t achieve so out of luck. There must be a good deal of craft behind it. This book proves so. Stephen King shows the other side of the story, his own. This is not a book on grammar. This is about his journey to become an author, a published one! It’s his experience wrestling with words. And then, that piece of advice you must always remember: If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the tools to write.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Ten: Lonely Planet, The World: A Traveller’s Guide to the Planet

Such an ambitious title, I thought the first time I saw its cover: A guide to The World..!

This is a book every traveler should keep at hand, even to play a stupid game when bored: Open randomly on any page and tell me where we are heading to 623, We’re off to Niger!

Yes, this is an inspirational book to keep at home, to decide “Which is our next destination”; once the decision is made, you can get the real guide. Packed with concise but useful information about almost every place in the world. It even suggests literature and movies to get you even more inspired. Maps and great pictures included. A book I had low hopes on, but it now lives on my night table and makes me dream of the wonders of this World. From the Lonely Planet website:

We’ve taken the highlights from the world’s best guidebooks and put them together into one 960-page whopper to create the ultimate guide to Earth. (…) This is the ultimate planning resource.

From now on, every traveller’s journey should start here…

  • Nearly 1000 colour photos of must-visit highlights

  • More than 200 colour maps

  • The guidebook every traveller needs to own


Tell me what you read. The Tiny Book


One last word, it breaks my heart to leave the Harry Potter series out of this list, but they are secretly hidden in my Kindle, so… they are always coming with me. They are not the only hidden books. Honestly I cannot travel just with ten books. And thanks…

THANKS to the guy who invented e-reader devices: they’re a blessing.


Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponBuffer this pageEmail this to someone
Share this post!