Different modes of travel demand different books. On an airplane I seem to need more action, something like a Martin Cruz Smith thriller. On a motorcycle, at the end of the day I want something with the quiet, intense focus of Carol Shields. […] One summer in Europe I carted around Don Quixote, bored and suspecting that the famous windmill scene gets all the attention because it is only thirty pages in and everyone gives up after that. But I became enchanted with Cervantes and his writing of the book more than with the Don and his adventures, or rather they merged, and the novel’s leisurely journey calmed my own. Sometimes when I’m travelling I begin to feel like a gigantic open nerve on the verge of overload, and that if I see/smell/touch/taste/hear one more thing I’ll explode and all my sensory impressions will be splattered across the landscape. It helps to write (which is why you always see travellers hunched in a scribbling frenzy over their journals or blazing away at the keyboards in internet cafés), but the right book creates a space, orders the cosmos for you, and you look up from it ready again to take in more.
It struck me that my recent spate of slim, intense volumes has something to do with the amount of reading I’ve been doing on the subway. They’re the right size and weight for carrying about but they’re dense enough for me to get a lot out of them even if I can only manage a few pages between transfer points.
When I go away on a real trip, I spend considerably more time agonizing over what books to pack than I do over which clothes and other sundries to bring. It’s a tricky business, making sure that I have enough reading material to carry me through without completely overloading my suitcase. I choose a range of books and make sure to include a few that will bear re-reading. Of course when I arrive at my destination I stock up on a few more as soon as I find a bookstore, thereby rendering all the aforementioned agonizing unnecessary and completely overloading my suitcase for the trip home.
I can very much relate to Bishop’s point about the right book somehow providing order and clarity in the chaos of travel. I don’t write much while travelling though which is a bit odd given that I’m always scribbling away at home. My tendency is to wait until I’ve processed the experience sufficiently to commit it to paper, by which time I may be on to the next place, or already back home. I've had to discipline myself to write while on the road to properly preserve the details.
How do you choose which books to travel with? Do you write while on the road?