The time when I start to get serious about an e-reader is when I travel. I like the idea of having numerous books at my fingertips and the ability to change books when I lose interest or need something other than my current choice to help the time go by (like for instance when I foolishly chose to bring War & Peace on my 18 hour flight to Singapore). But then I think – perhaps impractically some might say – of the romance of having that well-worn paperback on the train, at a cafe drinking cappuccino, or sitting on the edge of an old, charming European city square and I know that I’ll continue to bring books with my luggage for the foreseeable future. One comes on the plane with me and the second in my bag in case I finish or change my mind.
There is an art form to choosing a book to bring. I want something interesting that will remain engaging, something that will make those long hours on a plane go by and, ideally, something that is either written by an author from the place I’m going or about the country. I do bring a guidebook with me and like reading their brief histories of the places I’m visiting, but stories provide that sense of place and culture.
And history is always a good option, or historical fiction. When I traveled to Gdansk two years ago, I read James Michener’s Poland, a beast of a book, as many of Michener’s books are. It was one that would give me some history and I wasn’t likely to finish it too early. Even better is that the story was engaging and the characters took me through generations of history.
And Hemingway has travelled with me a few times. I read A Moveable Feast on the plane to Paris and found across Islands in the Stream, a novel published posthumously for a trip to the Florida Keys. And of course, for a bibliophile like myself, no visit to Key West is complete without a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house.
Other times I like to pick up books when I travel. Almost every road trip of mine to Austin, I stop at Book People to buy books, and one of my favorite memories from San Francisco was stumbling upon City Lights Books and I still have beautifully translated Spanish poetry I bought from that visit, in addition to a book that introduced me to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Not only then do I have pictures from my trips, great memories to smile about when thinking back on, but also reading the stories I bought from the local bookstore give me great memories in a different way. I might find writers I would otherwise not have found, like in the case of the Chilean poets, or books I’ve long wanted to read.
What do you like to read when you travel?