By Vaila Bhaumick

Let me take you on a journey because let’s face it, travelling through books is all we have at the moment! Now is a great time to drift off into fantasy worlds that fuel our imaginations, and help us come to terms with the world around us, and our place in it.

Renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell’s extensive study of humanity’s myths led him to believe that discovering our own inner myths is the key to fulfilling our life’s purpose. According to him, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty ‘yes’ to your adventure.”

Are you ready? These are the books that have helped me say “yes” so far on my life’s adventure.

The Neverending Story By Michael Ende

The stories we read as children have a profound effect on us. I knew I wanted to be a traveller when I read The Neverending Story, mainly just because it seemed so cool to be the hero in your own quest. 

It was only recently when I reflected on it, that I saw all the symbolism woven into it. The hero faced ‘The Swamps of Sadness’ (depression), discovered he was both the hero and the reader, and finally, he had to give the Empress (his grief for his dead mother) a new name, to save himself from emptiness. Mind blown!

A Cook’s Tour By Anthony Bourdain

Anthony, God rest his soul, was just that — pure soul. Another soulful being, my brother, introduced me to him a long time back. Inspired by Bourdain, he became a chef, and after reading A Cook’s Tour, I knew why. Who else transports you in a flash to the raw, sometimes rough, always delightful world of Asian street food?

The book takes us around the globe in search of perfect food but also gives us a gift. Bourdain gifts us a connection to people we’ll never meet, meals we’ll never eat, food myths if you will. He uncovers truths that other TV chefs never could and still has me hankering for steaming hot noodle bowls on Vietnamese streets, the holy grail. Food and travel, as you can probably tell, play prominent roles in my own personal mythology.

Kafka On The Shore By Haruki Murakami

If we’re talking of voyages of self-discovery, this is a complicated and twisted one. In Kafka on the Shore, our hero runs away from home in search of his missing mother and sister, and his life’s adventure begins to unfold in weird, unexpected ways. On reading Murakami, you might often utter the words “What the hell?”, because yes, his plots are very surreal at times.

You may also wonder where the story is going, and what it all means. For me, that’s the beauty of his writing—it meanders, it’s unpredictable, it’s uncomfortable, and it doesn’t often make sense. Then somehow (and I’m really not sure what kind of wizardry he uses), I gain an insight into my inner journey. Like our dreams, his novels awaken some part of the subconscious. Mesmerising! 

The Little Prince By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This book is one of the most translated books in the world. You may think of it as a children’s story, but it has a lot to tell us adults. Steeped in allegory, The Little Prince pinpoints many of our human shortcomings and shares his feelings of despair about all the bad stuff going on in the world.

He journeys to different planets, has his expectations shot down by the realisation that love leads to longing, the world is a desolate place, and the echo of your own voice is boring.

The Little Prince’s fable leaves us hanging—did the snake kill him, or is it a symbol of the life force energy? Perhaps he just went home! This book is a perfect way to ask yourself if you’re ready for your own life adventure, uncomfortable truths and all.

The Happy Prince By Oscar Wilde

I’m finishing off as I started—with a children’s story. Wilde’s The Happy Prince broke my heart when I was a child. I love animals, and the pure compassion and altruism of the little sparrow giving his life for others made me cry every time. For whatever reason, animals often bring out our empathy more than humans can. 

Allegory, myth, stories—whatever you choose to call them, they symbolise who we are— hero,  mother, sage. The Little Prince said that we see the important things with our hearts, not our eyes. Before we had written words, our stories were oral, and the stories we love the most get us right in the heart. Pay attention to those stories, say a big heartfelt yes to your adventure, and then you will be on the right track.