What is the Literary Guide to the World?

Looking for the best novel about Zimbabwe? Or just want to take a virtual trip to Martha's Vineyard? On this literary journey, everything is first-class.

By Hillary Frey

Published June 15, 2006 12:05PM (EDT)

A few years ago, I went to Delhi to visit a friend. On the long flight to India, I worked my way through the American magazines I was bringing as a gift, and Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love" (very good airplane reading). Once I had settled in my friend's white-tiled apartment in the quaint Nizamuddin district, I wanted to take in something that seemed better suited to my destination. Not a travel guide -- those I had already read and dog-eared. Rather, a book that could thrill and educate me all at once, a book that would enhance my visit rather than distract me from it.

My friend handed me a beat-up paperback edition of "City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi" by the British writer William Dalrymple. The taxiwallahs, the shrines, the Khan market immediately came to life in a whole different way. Dalrymple, whose book I toted all over Delhi, became my traveling companion -- pointing out the sites, teaching me Delhi's complicated and storied history, cracking jokes that were much funnier in India than at home. Dalrymple, even more than Mr. Vijay, who ran our very necessary car service, showed me the city. His book was indispensable -- and a delight.

After that trip, I started thinking: Wouldn't it be cool if there was a travel guide devoted not to restaurants, hotels and museums, but to the literature of a place? Yes, it would. So here it is: Salon's Literary Guide to the World. It's a grand name, to be sure, but one that suits. From Turkey to Togo, D.C. to L.A., Rio to Russia and beyond, the Guide promises to recommend the best books -- fiction, history, memoir or otherwise -- to take with you on your travels. And if there's a place that you've always dreamed of seeing, but won't visit in the foreseeable future, the Literary Guide will point you to the books that offer the best virtual tours around.

Our writers know their stuff: The first group of eight includes Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville on his homeland; New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Fuller on her childhood home of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia); frequent Salon contributor -- and once-Togo resident -- Matt Steinglass on the small West African nation he used to call home; and the lauded young novelist Tony D'Souza on Havana, where he had a very good time.

Throughout the summer, the Literary Guide will feature two new locations a week; in autumn we'll continue with one a week. There's much to look forward to, including pieces from National Book Award winner William Vollmann (Norway), Salon favorite Garrison Keillor (Minnesota) and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" author Rebecca Wells (Louisiana). We'll take you as far as Papua New Guinea and South Africa, but we've also got the books to read if you're staying closer to home -- in Martha's Vineyard, say, or the Jersey Shore. And you can make your own suggestions, too. We hope you'll use Salon's letters feature to comment on our writers' choices, and to make some suggestions of your own.

Welcome to the Literary Guide to the World -- we hope you have a great trip!

Hillary Frey

Hillary Frey is the Books editor at Salon.

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