Traveler’s Reading

It’s that time again! Every three years, I lead a trip to France, sponsored by my university. The students will be there all semester, and in a week I’m leaving for the three-week-long leg of the trip I organize, in beautiful Alsace. During my part of the trip, we’ll be staying in a hostel in Strasbourg for a week, and then the students will stay with host families for another two weeks while I live in a small apartment. I will have evenings and weekends mostly free — and of course, there are two transatlantic flights. I say this not to make you jealous, but to ask: what should I read?

Last time I asked this question, my situation was fundamentally different. I didn’t have an e-reader and wasn’t sure I wanted one. Now, I have a Kindle (and it’s even a rather old one) stocked, should this become necessary, with a lifetime of out-of-copyright classics. As long as my desert island has a way to charge the device, I have an inexhaustible source of pleasure. But there’s more to life than the out-of-copyright (or so they tell me.) Here’s my current, tentative list. Tell me what you think, and tell me what you would read on such a trip!

two thick 19th-century novels, one entertaining, one perhaps a little more somber: The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Small House at Allington. (I have a backup if one of these fails me: Little Dorrit is my Plan B.)

two works of nonfiction: How to Live, Sarah Bakewell’s quirky life of Montaigne, and Poetry and the Age, poetry criticism by Randall Jarrell.

two thrillers, to be discarded in France or on the airplane unless I adore them: Trauma, by Patrick McGrath, and The Hidden, by Tobias Hill.

two books of literary fiction I’ve been wanting to read for some time: Novelties and Souvenirs, by John Crowley, and To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf.

I’m considering adding something else, but I’m wavering. What’s your advice? How do you travel with, or without, books?

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11 Responses to Traveler’s Reading

  1. edgarone2 says:

    I always carry at least one book when my wife and I travel in addition to travel book of places where we are going.
    Today I picked up from our county library, “Through the Window”, a book of essays (17) and one short story, by Julian Barnes. You might like it.

  2. litlove says:

    William Maxwell’s The Chateau – a gorgeous book, and so cool to be reading it as an American in rural France (which is the situation of the main protagonists, who can’t quite figure out their French hosts’ attitude towards them and are a bit baffled by cultural differences). Have a wonderful time!

  3. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas) says:

    Your trip sounds wonderful (and hard work!). The Kindle has been my lifesaver the last few times I’ve flown internationally, and it is such fun to do a big download of treats for those interminable flights. And how much easier is it to be able to blow up the print in dodgy ‘plane lighting? Pre-Kindle I took a huge classic that I might not otherwise read unless stuck on a plane, and something lighter and disposable. Generally I ended up reading the light book then playing Tetris!

  4. jenn aka the picky girl says:

    Oh my goodness! I know it’s work, but nights and weekends free? That sounds amazing.

    I really like Patrick McGrath but haven’t read trauma. What about short story collections? I find I’m sometimes easily distracted when I travel, and a good short story collection is perfect for that.

    Have a great trip!

  5. Melissa says:

    It sounds like you have some great options. I always take at least one paperback in addition to my kindle in case it somehow gets broken. I like having a mix of lighter fare, for easy pick up and put down reading and also reading something set in the place I’m visiting.

  6. Belle says:

    Sounds as if you will have a lovely trip. I am sure the Kindle will be of great value. I always like to be reading something that takes place in the country I am visiting but I have no suggestions right this minute.

    I did however just download the Montaigne biography to my Kindle from the library. I didn’t realize there was this new one, so thanks for the tip.

    Enjoy your travels.

  7. Lisa says:

    My first thought was “Not The Small House!” – but that’s just my anti-Isabel prejudice. Your trip sounds wonderful. I am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which has me considering flights to France.

  8. Scott W. says:

    Coincidentally, I’ll also be flying to France next week for an annual visit. My problem is not what to read on the plane, but how to find room for the books I invariably bring back. For the flight over, I’ll probably bring two books: something dense (when else do I ever get 10 hours of protected reading time?) and something light for when I get too tired to concentrate. Bon voyage!

  9. Karen K. says:

    When I travel, I try to bring at least one book that’s related to where I’m traveling — either an author from that country or a book set in that country. I’d recommend Zola but if you’re taking an e-reader, all the public domain translations of his works are not very good, mostly sanitized versions from the 19th century. Dumas is always fun, and of course lots of people are reading Les Miserables right now.

    The Small House is good but Little Dorrit is also excellent. I think there are actually some French scenes in that one.

  10. Jenny says:

    I don’t know how your vacation reading proceeds, Proper Jenny, but as for me, I always need to bring a couple of books I’m fairly familiar with. Diana Wynne Jones or James Herriot or like that. Those are the kinds of books I read while brushing my teeth and before bed, and I have found them to be greatly necessary to my trip enjoyment.

  11. boardinginmyforties says:

    I always travel with a few books, reserve the right to purchase a few at the airport, and have my Nook loaded with plenty of selections. I almost get phobic thinking I won’t have a choice of what to read, especially on a long flight. Good luck with your reading selections. The trip to France sounds lovely.

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