Eight great books on trains

Written by on December 4, 2013 in Swiss travel - 5 Comments

Glenfinnan viaductThere are few things nicer than reading on a train. I love it. As did Oscar Wilde, who quipped: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” The problem I have in Switzerland is that so many of the trains rides are so beautiful that I don’t get a chance to read; I’m too busy looking out the window.

But the past few weeks I’ve had lots of reading time on the train, mainly because I’ve been doing journeys in the dark as the Slow Train makes its way around Switzerland. That’s one of the downsides of evening events all over the country. Tomorrow night is Stocker Bookshop in Lucerne (details here) and Monday it’s Balmer bookshop in Zug (details here), while Sunday I’ll manage a daytime visit to Orell Füssli in Zurich (details here).

With all this talk of books and trains, I decided to compile a list of my favourite books set on or involving trains (but not books simply about trains). I never tire of train travel and never get bored of reading, so anything that combines the two is perfect.

Murder on the Orient Express. The perfect murder-on-board crime novel which is one of the best Agatha Christie books aboard one of the great train rides. Even the film wasn’t too bad! And it’s almost impossible to guess the ending.

The Big Red Train Ride. Eric Newby’s classic account of the seven-day journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It inspired me to do that same trip 13 years later. Truly an unforgettable train ride, and book, even if the Soviet Union is long gone.

Hogwarts ExpressHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Who can forget the first time we went to Platform 9¾ and climbed on board the Hogwarts Express? For that one trip alone it has to be here (and on the cover!) and I had to visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct (pictured above).

Strangers on a Train. Not all men you meet on trains are as jolly as Oscar Wilde so you should certainly never trust ones who buy you drinks and offer to kill your wife. Patricia Highsmith’s book is as chilling as Hitchcock’s film adaptation.

Riding the Iron Rooster. Cynical & caustic but informative and unique. Paul Theroux isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but his trip to and through China made me want to go. So I did, and seemingly enjoyed it more than he did.

The Railway Children. If you’re a certain age and British, then you’ll remember Jenny Agutter and her red petticoats. But that was the film and this is the original book from E. Nesbit. It’ll bring a tear to your eye, though probably from the steam and grit.

The Sleeper. Every one of Emily Barr’s books is a treat, and this one doubly so as it involves the sleeper train from London to Cornwall. A body, a missing person, an illicit affair, a carriage of red herrings – and a page-turner that will make you miss your stop.

Thomas the Tank Engine. The Railway Series from Rev Awdry never fails to delight. Trains with names, and personalities to match, and not forgetting the Fat Controller!

It’s not an exhaustive list, as I’m sure there are plenty of other candidates, not least other railway books from Theroux and Christie. So perhaps you’d like to tell me which are your favourite books with trains in them – and give me something new to read on my next train trip.

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5 Comments on "Eight great books on trains"

  1. Don Newing December 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm · Reply

    My favourite railway book is “Railway Adventure” by L T C Rolt (pub. The History Press). Its a great true story about the rescue in 1950 of an obscure narrow gauge railway in Wales by a group of people who were determined it was not going to die. It is still running!

  2. swisspostcards December 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm · Reply

    I would suggest also Le train by Simenon …but I don’t know if is has been translated into English. I read the Italian edition.
    You should do a post about great movies set on a train too (like “the Lady vanishes” set on a train …to Basel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_Vanishes_(1979_film))
    Have a nice day!

  3. Keith December 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm · Reply

    Thanks for the list Diccon! I also love reading on the train in Switzerland. Today I finished “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer on the train home from Luzern.

  4. Roger Goodacre January 26, 2014 at 4:13 pm · Reply

    Still reading Harry Potter at your age….

    My recommendations:

    – Compartiment Tueurs (10.30 from Marseille) by Sebastien Japrisot, the first of his excellent crime/psychological thrillers, best read in French (try also L’Ete Meurtrier)

    – Stamboul Train by Graham Greene

    – Behind the Wall by Colin Thubron, a year’s trip around China. mostly by train, and mostly off the beaten track

  5. Mike Bailey February 10, 2014 at 11:52 pm · Reply

    I discovered your Swiss Watching book while travelling through Switzerland by train in the summer of 2011. Greatly looking forward to reading your new book. Hopefully your train literature reading list might stand me in good stead for the Transsiberian railway.

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