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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The “Right” Book for the Road

In a recent issue of The Journal of Higher Education, writer and poet Jay Parini mused on how to select the best books for a trip. He confesses that he begins to worry about books weeks before he plans to travel.

He prefers fiction on planes. For a five-hour flight across the country or over the Atlantic, Parini looks for short novels, novellas or a collection of short stories. One trick he discovered is to get about two-thirds through a book before a trip –- that’s when he thinks the narrative becomes gripping and can hold his attention during the hours in the air.

A while back, the library’s e-mail newsletter, FCPlease, reported on what books librarians packed on memorable vacations. Pat White-Williams, the manager of the Centreville Regional Library, likes to take along books that are related to the destination. She described a planned trip to New Jersey. “I felt I had to read the new Stephanie Plum novel [mystery writer Janet Evanovich’s sleuth]. . . Stephanie is a ‘Jersey Girl’ and I wanted to get the feel for that part of the state before I went there.”

“I love to read things that are set in places I’m visiting,” says Linda Schlekau, manager of the Dolley Madison Library. Preparing for a trip to London, Schlekau said, “I started reading Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography before we left and carried The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber on the plane. Matching the history, people and place names with the actual location adds to that ‘I’m really here!’ feeling.’”

Branch Coordinator Elizabeth Waller recalls: “As a young newly minted librarian off to Army Headquarters Library in Germany, I left the United States on a red-eye overnight flight, full of trepidation about the momentous life change that I was undertaking. As the plane lifted off, I opened the brand-new paperback I bought for the trip: The World According to Garp by John Irving. I finished the last page 10 hours later as we landed in Frankfurt, quite sure I had just had the literary experience of a lifetime. I often wonder what made that book so memorable: was it my journey into the unknown or the author’s inarguable gift for storytelling? Either way, I never see a copy of Garp without immediately returning to that dark airplane in the middle of nowhere.”

Have you had a similar epiphany? What are your favorite travelin’ books? Let us know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I prefer magazine articles to books on planes. They require less concentration and I don't get as distracted by the ambient noise of kids and chatter.