A Suitcase Full of Books

It’s coming up to that time again… time to fly! This time next week, I’ll be in a metal tube 10.668km (approximately) above the Philippine Sea hurtling towards Tokyo. After a few days there it’s on to Scotland, Ireland (Republic of AND Northern) then a couple of days in London before coming home to remind myself that these trips don’t pay for themselves and I rather need to return to work. After coming home from India, I found myself pacing my apartment for about 10 minutes in existential despair. I had a load of washing on, had separated gifts to others from gifts to self, restored my passport to its Safe Place, and it was throwing away my spreadsheet that began the spiral. What was I even doing with my life now that I wasn’t out experiencing the wider world? Sure, I had work the next day and a job interview in three. I was quietly confident about the interview (spoiler alert: I got the job) so change was already afoot and I had things to be working towards, but in my post-holiday blue, I wanted none of it. If my clothes hadn’t all been in the wash and my body in such need of a lie down, I’d have been sorely tempted to repack my bags and head back out the door. (Jokes! I knew darn well I’d have an even greater guilt complex about failing to show up for work the next day, and couldn’t trust myself in travel-mode without a spreadsheet.) Then I remembered there was another spreadsheet. The next trip was already booked, I had a thing to look forward to. In one relieving realisation, my life had meaning again. Please remind me of this in a month’s time when I’m back here experiencing an identical crisis – I’ve already booked part of a trip for this time next year. I haven’t started the spreadsheet yet, but that’ll give me something to do when it’s stupid o’clock in the morning and my jetlagged brain thinks it’s a good time to do some work.

With an overseas adventure imminent, the pressing question is a big one: what should I read while I’m away? I’ve read 32 books this year so far, which is an average of 2.667 per week. I’m away for 3.5 weeks, which means 9.3345 books. Invariably, I read less when I’m on holidays; apparently I need less distraction from the world when I’m not at work, and have greater interest in scenery when it’s not part of my commute. Oh, and am more inclined to talk to people when they speak with an exotically attractive accent. Let’s conservatively say I’ll need 5 or 6 books. Maybe even fewer if they’re particularly long.

I usually like to read a book or two set in the place I’m visiting. For India it was A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Last time I was in Scotland, it was the first in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve been prepping for Japan with The Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki, and Ireland with Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. But what do I take with me? Fortuitously, my last trip to Scotland came not long after my 30th birthday, for which I was gifted a Kindle from my brother and his then fiancée. They’ve always been excellent and generous gift-givers, and since the upcoming trip was for their wedding, a Kindle was perfect. Naturally, it comes with me whenever I leave the house for more than a day, and now that I think about it, it has the next two Outlander books on it already. (As I recall, there was an Amazon deal at the time of purchase that meant it was cheaper to buy three books than just the first. Bit of a no-brainer, really.) Evidently I didn’t enjoy the first book enough to move on to the next, but part of me knew I’d be back in Scotland before too long, which might provide a prompt sufficient for me to continue the series. The books are also on the lengthy side, which is great when it’s all on Kindle anyway, and means lugging fewer physical books in my carry on.

Which brings me to the next criteria: I don’t think I’d know myself if I didn’t have a physical book on me. It has to be something long enough that I won’t finish it in one plane ride, but not so big I’ll be discouraged from carrying it with me. In previous years, when not reading my book of choice, I’ve wrapped the hefty tome in a jumper to use as a pillow. Having said that, my financial situation at such times meant I could not afford accommodation anywhere the pillow provided could be trusted not to give you bed bugs, so this last point is not the deciding factor it once was. My bookshelves are overflowing as it is, so I plan to take a book I can pass along to the next reader somewhere on the road to free up some space at home. For India, this was A Fine Balance, and the last Eurotrip was The Secret History by Donna Tartt. For this trip, I’m thinking a classic I bought secondhand – something like War and Peace or Crime and Punishment, something I can easily buy a cheap secondhand copy of again if I think I’m really going to miss it.

If I’m taking a classic, I probably want to balance it out with something contemporary, which is where you guys come in. What have you been reading? What might I like to read when the weather is European-mild but I’m nevertheless wearing three jumpers because that’s how I roll? What Amazon deal of the day has piqued your interest? What have I missed that’s come out of Scotland and Ireland recently? Note: I’ve read both of Sally Rooney’s already (loved them) as well as Milkman by Anna Burns (very “worthy” but also impossible for me to enjoy.) I should also point out I won’t be taking any library books with me. I’ve never had so much as a late fee (except for my cunning scheme within the university library, but that’s another post) and don’t intend to accrue any now. I also don’t have anything on my non-fiction TBR pile that’s burning to be read, so will gratefully accept any such recommendations.

I’m sure you appreciate the weight of such decisions, and I really would like some recommendations. Because I like to be proactive about such things, I’m now going to consult The Novel Cure, “a warm and passionate, witty and wonderful way to expand your reading list,” according to the blurb. And if I don’t see you before I go… so long, suckers!

Travel Books

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