The writer on the road has become something of a cliché (surely the direst fate that could befall any creative soul) – a starry-eyed wanderer with a faithfully dog-eared Moleskine tucked in their backpack, criss-crossed with sketches and dashed-down observations, crumpled train tickets peeking out from between the pages. We’ve probably all had the misfortune of crossing paths with such an “artiste” on our travels – if we’re really unlucky, paired with an acoustic guitar and a propensity for over-sharing.

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There’s a laugh-out-loud irony to the recent proclamations that books are the “hot new accessory” for summer 2019 simply because they’ve been seen replacing clutch bags under the arms of certain supermodels, not to mention the trend for smugly Instagramming your bedside bookstack in an effort to boost your cultural capital. As someone whose family albums are littered with images of her teenage self scowling into a novel on the beach while dressed in black, the idea that the mere presence of a book can signal any kind of intellectual glamour is a questionable one.

However, it’s true that when we set out to write – or read – in a foreign land, we’re not just packing a book, but a whole inheritance of romantic aspirations. We’re Jack Kerouac frenziedly scribbling scrolls of wayward poetry on the American highway; Ernest Hemingway knocking back tumblers of bourbon while penning tales of bravado in a Havana backstreet bar; Mary Shelley stalking the shores of Lake Geneva with a head full of fire and ice. Whether we’re inspired by the words of others or jotting down our own miniature masterpieces, the act of travel unlocks new ways of seeing – and being – and allows us to inhabit different characters, timelines and narratives.

Many of our favourite tomes act as love letters to locations around the world, their settings as fully formed and nuanced as any human character. They propel us to set out on our own acts of devotion or pilgrimage, adding our footnotes to the story. It could be the deep, dark forests of fairy tales, the classical ruins of ancient epics or the fevered cities that birthed a thousand visions – in each case, books give us something to cling to even as we navigate unchartered territory, the reality often proving even stranger and more alluring than fiction.

With the words of those who have gone before us whispering in our ears, the halcyon haze of the summer months is a time to check out from our everyday routines, indulge our fantasies and try on new identities, whether that means following in the footsteps of our literary heroes and heroines or making an impression of our own.

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