Texts well-travelled

Theeraparb Lohitkun is a non-fiction writer, respected photographer and the recipient of last year’s Sriburapha Award, which recognises artists in the literary field. When he travels, he packs trip-related reading materials, such as maps, guidebooks and academic texts about the history and culture of his destination.

Theeraparb chats with Life about his reading lists.

What are you reading?

Buddhagotama by Worasak Mahatanobhone. The book looks at the life of Lord Buddha through the lens of political science. Readers will see the social and economic context of ancient India over 2,000 years ago. We are accustomed to the image of Lord Buddha as a supernatural being image, but this book lets us looks at him differently. All I can say is that my respect for Lord Buddha remains intact despite this book perceiving him in an un-supernatural way.

As a travel writer, are there any books on the subject that you’d like to recommend?

I have different approaches to my choices of travel books. If I go to Myanmar, I will read books about the history of the country, such as Burma Sia Muang (When Burma Lost Her Country) by MR Kukrit Pramoj. When I go to Bhutan, I will read about Buddhism in Bhutan, because you cannot understand that country and fully appreciate its culture without knowing about Buddhism. As Bhutan is becoming popular travel destination, I would recommend  books which address Tantra Vajarayana Buddhism in the country, such as the works of Ajarn Sulak Sivarak or other theologists. Sometimes I read history books written by Prince Damrong when he travelled to Cambodia over a century ago, so I can to make comparisons with the present. For literary flavour, I recommend travelogues written by the late Rong Wongsawan.

What books influence your writing?

The non-fiction works of Seksan Prasertkul, especially his Dern Pa Sor Har Chevit Jing (Forest Trekking And The Meaning Of Life). I read that he wrote it from his experience in the forest after he joined the Communist party in the late 1970s. His prose convinced me that non-fiction and facts do not have to be dry and dead serious.

You’re more of a non-fiction person, but are there any works of fiction that have won your heart?

Kamphipaksa (The Judgement) by Chad Kobjitti. He dextrously takes on class division and the patronage system in Thai culture. Those elements underline and govern the interactions and judgements of almost every character in the book.

What recent non-fiction books should we read?

Tarm Roy Naresuan Maharaj Nok Krob Prawatsart Chartniyome (Tracing The Life Of King Naresuan Outside The Nationalistic Frame) by Sujane Kapparit. Sujane digs deep into historical evidence from the Ayutthaya period to verify the biography of King Naresuan. The writer even travelled to Myanmar to view the real battleground where the king fought his enemies. It is an attempt to look at this great monarch in a scientific way, supported by evidence. And if you can break away from nationalism, you will find that the book eulogises King Naresuan without superstitious propaganda.

Are there any books that have let you down?

I cannot think of any. But I can say what kind of books I will not read. Among them are the Harry Potter series and some of the S.E.A. Write Award winners. 

Paper or e-books?

I am more familiar with paper, not screens. Physical books yield the real pleasure of reading.

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