Saturday, December 17, 2005

Reading, Writing and the Road

Today this passage from Ted Bishop’s Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books jumped out at me:

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?


Julie said...

Travelling with young children is complicated enough that the most I can manage is tried and true re-reads. And actually, even in the olden days (pre-kids) I didn't usually bring too many books. I'd prefer to take my chances on whatever random books I might find in the hotel lobby/guest house/local library.

By the way, your earlier post about Parnassus on Wheels inspired me to suggest it to my book club, and it's now officially our January selection. I'm really looking forward to it!

Robert Ellis said...

Packing clothes is easy; like you, I agonize over the books I'm going to bring. I always take many more books with me than I will ever read when I travel. I usually take things that are lighter, easier reads (I prefer shorter books in general), or I end up reading magazines. I have a hard time writing when I'm on the road, mostly because I'm spoiled at home by my Mac and Cinema Display and music, but also because I find travel either too absorbing (when I'm traveling for fun) or too exhausting (when I'm traveling for work).

Jana said...

Usually I take the book I'm currently in the midst of reading.

Jana said...

Oops, pressed the send thingy before I finished the thought.

I usually take the book I'm reading, and whatever else I'm in the mood for. It just depends on where I'm going and what mood I'm in when I leave.

patricia said...

I'm usually reading more than one book at a time, so from a practical perspective, I will take the book that is easiest to fit in my purse. But if the book is just too amazing to set aside for a day or a weekend, I will stuff it in, somehow, regardless of weight or size.

I find writing on the road a bit difficult, though I have done it from time to time, only when I am travelling by train, mind you. I find the physical movement to be very distracting. Though I once came up with a pretty good idea for a comic strip while travelling on the GO train. Thank goodness I always carry pen and paper with me!