bali beach read
Watching the sun go down in Bali with a cocktail and good book – an excellent choice. Image: Ramesh Kumar

Bali holiday reads: Every good trip starts and ends with a good book

Everyone loves a holiday read in-between dips in the sea – and what better way to embrace your holiday destination that reading a book that is inspired by, or takes part in the very location you’re visiting?

There is something kind of awesome about reading about the holiday destination you are in, while you are in it. Everyone who visits Bali has a different experience, so it can be rather intriguing to read someone else’s encounter, be it a fictional character or a real honest-to-goodness experienced traveller. What they did, what they felt, and what they learned can make for an interesting and informative read – not to mention a fantastic experience for all the voyeurs out there who like to know everyone else’s business.

Whether it allows you to find some literary hot spot, get some insider knowledge, or enjoy the portrait painted in words by someone else – having a book that gives a different perspective of the country you are in can be enlightening, inspiring – and if you pick the right one – damn entertaining.

But, are there any books out there set in Bali other than Eat, Pray Love? Umm, hells yeah there are. Read on for a sneaky run down on some holiday reads ideal for taking in a few pages during an afternoon shower during the wet season or as you touch up your tan on the beach.

beach holiday reads
Happiness is reading at the beach. Image: Roger Price.

Fiction

Love and Death in Bali/ A Tale from Bali

Vicki Baum (1937)

Re-released as a part of a Periplus Classics Series as Love and Death in Bali. Set against the backdrop of the Dutch invasion of Bali just over a century ago, Baum writes about the lead up to the 1906 puputan in Denpasar and the resulting mass suicides of the Balinese royalty, through the personal stories of its characters. Love and Death in Bali uses the tales of ordinary people to tell the bloody story of the conquest and subjugation of an island paradise. An interesting fiction read that takes part during extraordinary real life events.

Buy online on Amazon.

Bali Sugar – A Tale of Love, God and Political Plots

Steve Brook (2004)

Set in 1998, Australian husband and father, Arnold Gold wants to write a satire on pornography, so he decides to take a writing ‘holiday’ in Kuta, to devote all of his time to his work-in-progress ‘Monica’s Mouth’. That was the plan anyway, but as we all know about the best-laid plans – life seems to get in the way. Enter stage right: a motley crew of Dutch tourists, religious fringe-dwellers and a fascinating local lady … all who seem hell bent on not letting Arnold get any words on the page.

Buy online on Book Depository or Booktopia.

The Painted Alphabet – A Mythical Story of Bali

Diana Darling (2012)

Magic, witches, tourists, love and desire – sound up your alley? The Painted Alphabet blends mythic and modern times together in a novel based on an old Balinese poem. If you like mythology and fantasy juxtaposed with modern times – this read could appeal to you.

Buy online on Amazon.

Bali Nights

Giselle Renarde (2014)

If you are looking for something a bit sexier, Bali Nights by Giselle Renarde should do the trick. Co-workers Shandra and Kimmy fly to Bali, with “Bali’s top tourist attraction” on their agenda – and it’s not the beach. It’s the young, good looking “beach boys” that these girls are interested in. A saucy tale about lust, sexy times and “beach boys” for hire. Oh my.

Holiday Bali reads
Reading is a good option when the Bali weather turns from sunny to this. Image: Stephen Hill.

NON FICTION

A House in Bali

Colin McPhee (1980)

Ever wondered what Bali was like in the 1930s before the tourism trade took off? Well, musicologist Colin McPhee can tell you. McPhee went to Bali to document gamelan music and wrote a book about his time on the island. Expect some great descriptions of Bali at a time before Bintang singlets, knock off Ray-Bans and bootlegged DVDs.

Buy online on Amazon.

Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert (2007)

This is perhaps the most well known paperback to venture to the lands of Bali. It may or may not be responsible for a brief surge in single, white females flying to Bali on a spiritual pilgrimage to find themselves a charming life partner. It almost feels like an obligation to mention that the book landed on the New York Times bestseller list, before being made into a movie staring Julie Roberts and James Franco. But try not to pay attention to the hype, as this memoir is an easy read and Gilbert really is an insightful and often witty writer. You will find this book ideal if you just broke up with someone or are going through a divorce. Or like to read about food.

Buy online on Amazon.

Under the Volcano

Cameron Forbes (2007)

A relatively popular book for history geeks (yes, there is such a thing) that also focuses on the current challenges that Balinese communities face. The book covers many different subjects and spares you from that dry, historical writing style found in libraries and school textbooks. An informative and engaging read for those who like a side of history served up with their holiday.

Buy online on Black Inc. Books

Bali Daze – Free Fall off the Tourist Trail

Cat Wheeler (2009)

Previously published as Dragons in the Bath, this is a witty and insightful look into the daily life of a Canadian expat in Ubud. The book focuses on Wheeler’s life in Bali – her home, animals and village life, as well as the rice farming industry and dealing with snakes in the house.

Available on Kindle or hard copies in Indonesia.

Buy online on Amazon.

Fragrant Rice: my continuing love affair with Bali

Janet de Neefe (2003)

Bali is a bit of a hot spot for Australians to relocate to. This memoir is about an Australian restaurateur who fell in luuurve and married a Balinese man before raising four children in Bali. An accessible introduction to the Balinese culture that has the bonus of recipes for food lovers. Janet de Neefe is also the founder and director of The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Buy online on Amazon.

Balilicious

Becky Wicks (2012)

This one reads a little like a travel blog or travel diary, but is also packed with background information about Bali and its culture. It’s set mainly in Ubud, but also covers Wick’s travels to Kuta, Legian, Amed, Lovina, Padang Bai as well as Sengiggi and the Gili Islands. It’s a fun read, about Wick’s six month stay in Bali, with an ample dose of self depreciating humour. If you are looking for an anecdote on the Eat, Pray, Love movie, check out this excerpt about about the Ubud Monkey Forest:

“In the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts is shown cycling through a leafy jungle, smiling as the furry little monkeys sit quietly on the sidelines, looking cute. […] I hate to be the one to break the news, but now that I’ve done it, I know for sure that Hollywood has lied to us.”

Buy online on Amazon.

holiday reads bali
Books on books. Image: Toby Hudson.

Bookshops

Getting your holiday on in down town Bali and don’t have a clue where to buy some books from? It’s OK. There’s a number of Periplus stores around Bali as well as some local treasures listed below.

Ganesha Bookshop Bali
Ubud : Jalan Raya, (near the Post Office)
Sanur : Jalan Danau Tamblingan 42
Kerobokan : Inside Biku Restaurant, Jalan Petitenget 888
Telephone: (62-361) 970320
Email : info@ganeshabooksbali.com
 
Cinta Bookshop
Address: Jl Dewi Sita, Ubud Bali
Telephone: +62 361 973 295
Kerta Bookshop
Address:  Jl. Pantai Kuta No. 5, Kuta, Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Telephone: +62 819-1617-8154