What Lurks on the Youth Hostel Bookshelf?

by Adena Harford Jan 5, 2010
Tripwolf’s Adena Harford read our recent melee about hostel films that make us barfy, then decided to take on what might be lurking on the dusty bookshelf next to the TV.

Disclaimer: Originally branching off Nine Films That Should be Retired from all Youth Hostels, I won’t agree that any these books should actually be removed…though perhaps all of us out there are waiting for a new dose of inspiration.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

…dropping the bomb. That piglet-pink paperback is enough to call many-a-reader to pull it from the shelf, but backpackers’ eyes simply light up when they see the word “Zen” – which we all like to associate with our travel persona. The pages are beautifully worn, and passages underlines by other meditative travelers…at least until about page 325 when we’ve just had enough, Bob.

Am I still heady if I only get halfway through?

Any Swedish instruction manual explaining how to clean your digital camera’s lens, or how to maintain your 42 b 605 Mm Automatic Rifle – but of course, in Swedish.

You can’t make this stuff up. Talking with JJ, the owner of the Daku Resort in Savusavu, he explained to me why hostels or hotels should never have book swap shelves. “Inevitably, after a few years, there will be nothing left but Swedish instruction manuals. Go look at our shelf!” And I did. Oddly enough, because I don’t meet many Swedes on the road…

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Probably many a male backpacker’s secret fantasy. Not the horrible death of his daughter and falling into a hole of depression part, but the romanticized story of an ex-drug addict and con-man stealing away to Mumbai to live as a wanted expat for 10 years.

Phew. Another intensely long read, it’s an exciting story, but it’s hard to believe.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I actually tried really hard not to like this book, mostly because maybe 15 people recommended it to me. Gilbert is an honest and excellent writer, bringing us along on her path to self re-discovery after a bad divorce. She spends a full year between Italy, India and Bali. Sounds cheese, but if you happen to pull it from the shelf, give it a go – even if you want to paper bag it.

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss

This is written about his creepy friend “Mystery” who you may remember from a recent reality show on VH1. Guys reading this is the same as straight men watching Sex and the City – “I’m just intrigued by the social constructs.” Bull.

You better hide this one, I don’t know what kind of lady is going to let you buy her a drink next door if she sees you reading this. Hostels are supposed to be safe places…

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Every other traveler I meet recommends or hands this book to me. I’m still not sure why. Also the most depressing book that I don’t ever remember anything about. Márquez is a beautiful writer, but I think I got lost…

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Though the last time you may have seen this book was third grade, it takes on some heavy concepts. While we’re out finding ourselves again, this book inspires us to contemplate life and death, as well as whether or not the old man molests that little boy.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

A personal favorite, most likely to pop up in seaside locations (probably in the same hostels playing The Beach). A quick read, this is a dreamlike story of an old fisherman who struggles with his last fish. Simply a Hemingway classic, you’ll always look educated pulling that from the shelf. May score you points with the hottie in hut number three.

Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

We all really are long-haired hippies at heart, huh? Well, at least Mr. Kerouac makes me feel a little more justified in wiping my ass with my hand. Only when necessary, of course. (That beautiful quote is actually in Big Sur, but you get the idea…)

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