Summer Vacation: Reads to Inspire Your Imagination

Today marks the last day of a two-week vacation with my family. Three generations together among great tortoises and blue footed boobies in the Galapagos and cattle and condors in the Andes.

It was a trip of a lifetime. It was also a vacation with lots of quiet time for reading. Among us, we had quite the range of books, but the common theme was one of journey and adventure. These were among our favorites:



The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. Of course, this is the quintessential story for our journey. It is an extraordinary read. Darwin is 22 years old in 1831 when he joins the crew of HMS Beagle as a junior naturalist. The fact that he went at all is the classic psychological journey of individuating and separating from one’s parents. His father thought it was a folly initially and it took several tries to get him on board with the plan. Darwin’s task was to observe and collect specimens of plants, animals, rocks, and fossils wherever the voyage took them. We all know the end of the story, but because this is Darwin’s journal, written in real time, it is incredibly exciting to witness the evolution of Darwin’s thinking over the course of the five-year exploration.


Educated by Tara Westover. This memoir is a psychological drama. Tara tells an honest and courageous story of growing up with abuse of many sorts. She shares the painful and victorious moments of finding her own voice that ultimately enabled her to narrate her own path. Tara was the daughter of survivalist parents in Idaho who did not believe in public education or modern medicine. Although Tara now holds a PhD in history from Cambridge University, she did not step foot inside a school until she was seventeen years old. Hers is a journey of emotional survival and struggle, and it is a celebration of perseverance and resilience.


Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut. Recommended to me just before departing, this was a whole other adventure in the Galapagos. The book takes place one million years hence and is narrated by the ghost of Leon Trout who inhabits a cruise ship bound for the Galapagos Islands. The world is about to end with a global economic crisis and the outbreak of WW-III.  Ten people escape to one of the islands, and the story of their evolution as seal-like “fisherfolk” takes Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to a whole new world. Vonnegut at his best.


Where Did You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. The lead character in this 2012 novel is Bernadette Fox. I was so excited about our family trip to the Galapagos and the Andes Mountains. In contrast, Bernadette, who suffers with agoraphobia, feels just the opposite about their family trip to Antarctica and goes to great lengths to miss it. My niece who read this one tells me that the book is hilariously funny and unpredictable. Not going to say any more except that it is definitely worth reading before the movie comes out.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. In this comedic, futuristic adventure story, Arthur Dent, is the last living man who is taken from earth by Ford Perfect just before it is destroyed for a galactic freeway. Ford Perfect is a research for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and was stuck on earth for fifteen years. As they journey through space together, Arthur learns the truth about earth, its creation and the answer to everything. The series actually started as a British radio comedy broadcast. It has all the winning elements of great fantasy and British humor.


So grateful for our family adventure. So enjoyed the time to read some of these other stories that take us to faraway places. Real or imagined – such journeys do wonders for our health and wellbeing.

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University
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