Novel Ideas

17 11 2008

“This Hemingway guy writes so well, I feel like I’m actually in Africa!”  (Kicheche Camp, Kenya)

There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book whether on a rainy night at home or to help kill time during a 5-hour layover in a distant antiseptic and impersonal airport terminal. But picking the right reading material for your travels can be an art almost as intricate as writing the masterpiece in the first place.

I’m a book-junkie and spend a lot of time and effort selecting just the right books for my travel. I long ago learned that size does matter and always try to travel as light as possible. Whenever I can I try to choose thick pocketbook paperbacks that will last me many hours yet fit comfortably in my pocket or carry-on. I always try to avoid mammoth telephone-directory hardbacks that I know I will quickly come to resent no matter how good they are and vindictively want to abandon after the first few hours of lugging. It’s also better to carry books that I don’t mind leaving behind or trading along the way – rather than carrying a family heirloom first edition.


Light not only refers to size and weight, but also means something that can easily be put down and picked up amid the chaos and distractions of airports and train stations without losing the thread. Just because you’ve always wanted to read Stephen Hawkings’ “A Brief History of Time” and valiantly failed a dozen times at home doesn’t mean you’ll have more success on a train racing through the Swiss Alps or on a Central American beach. If it was a struggle at home, it will probably still be a struggle on vacation…so pack that new Stephen King instead!


Apart from airports and flights, you may actually have less time to read than you expected. After a long day of sightseeing and exploring, you may well fall into a deep sleep the moment your head hits the pillow. During train or bus trips in strange lands, you may will be so intent on drinking in every last drop of passing scenery that your face will be glued to the window throughout instead of glued to your book, so one or two titles will probably be enough.


However, if you are a voracious reader that eats books even while doing the grocery shopping, don`t assume you can find decent reading material along the way even when in an English speaking country. Although easy enough to find appealing titles in North America or Britain, books are often quite expensive throughout the developing world and the selection may be limited. Take a spare book in your luggage just in case you do manage to finish the first one.


Try to be a bit culturally sensitive. Brazenly reading the “Biography of Borat” while on public transport in Kazhakstan or a colouring book entitled “The Genius of Sarah Palin” in Wasilla, Alaska may not make you the most popular person in town so either leave them at home…or hide the covers!


Plan ahead and try to anticipate what might appeal to you along the way. If you`re interested in history you might just find that while travelling through Australia the constant references to Captain Cook may whet your appetite for more information and leave you searching for a decent biography. In South America it could be Simon de Bolivar, Che Guevara, Evita Peron or a famous local author. Try to think ahead to what might be piquing your interest while on your travels and pack accordingly.


Reading is one of the great pleasures of life and a good book can make a great trip even better.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan



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