I love reading. I read everything that’s in front of me, and I constantly seek out new material.
OK, I don’t read everything that’s in front of me. But what I mean is, I find myself constantly examining cereal boxes, the minute details on boarding passes, the ingredients on my dog’s food package…
But for some reason, I loathe instruction manuals. I think it has something to do with wanting to figure out “how to”, not being told. For the same reason I am not really someone who purchases travel guides. I’d much rather read about a city through history books, biographies or novels, than to be told “how to”.
My inexplicable aversion to instruction manuals aside, I take great pleasure in reading. So, as you’d expect, I like to read when traveling. I read in airports, on airplanes, in hotels. Up until recently, this presented a big challenge: how could I pack enough material to keep myself entertained for a long trip?
I remember when I went to India with my cousin for two weeks, I observed her approach to this problem. She had religiously saved the New York Times magazine every week for what must have been six months, all in preparation for our trip. And to top it off, these were combined with six months worth of New Yorkers.
The beauty of this approach is that she got to discard the material as she read it. I, on the other hand, had packed fifteen books, and was stuck lugging them with us for the whole trip. (I cannot bare the thought of throwing books away, and have never figured out how to best get them in good hands on the road). Adopting this wise approach, I was well armed with magazines when my sister and I spent three weeks traveling from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans Siberian Railroad.
I had three duffle bags full of magazines, that we realized weighed 75 pounds collectively when we checked into our flight to Beijing. 75 pounds of reading material, that would steadily get lighter, and then I would eventually have empty bags to load up with souvenirs. Perfect plan, right? As we boarded the train in Beijing we had to go through security. I think our bags were something like: one backpack each of clothes, one giant duffle for food, one backpack for toiletries, and three duffles full of the magazines I had been saving to read during the trip.
As our seven bags were going through the conveyer belt, there were heaps of other travelers crawling all over our stuff trying to get to their bags. We were a spectacle, trying to collect everything and balance it right, and run to our train (we hadn’t factored in the 45 minutes of security, so we were cutting it close to departure time). Then, on the way to the train, one of the duffles exploded, sending magazines everywhere. So, in a sweaty, hot, stressed hurry, we frantically collected the strewn magazines and stuffed them into the duffle. And, my magazine bags were heavy. Really dense and heavy. Even without the explosion, it was cumbersome and burdensome to have them.
As we rushed to the train, I could tell my sis was annoyed at me, and, she was right to be. I had been afraid of the confrontation that would ensue once we got to our cabin, but once we got settled in, she calmly looked at me and said: “I think we need to rethink our packing strategy.” And, I loved her all the more for that understated commentary. I ended up discarding two bags of magazines when we got off the train in Mongolia, which made all the difference in the world in our ability to maneuver.
Fast forward to 2011-2, when I traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Mali, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, Germany, Jordan, Amsterdam. All with one Kindle. I grew to love that Kindle. I had been so hesitant to get one, because I love the form factor of books, magazines, paper. But, I inherited one from my aunt when she upgraded to a new device, and it didn’t take long for me to become a convert. The battery life was amazing, so I could take it with me and not have to charge it for a week at a time. And I filled it up with over eighty books. Here’s the list of the ones I liked the best:
A Scattered Life, McQuestion
Another Day of Life, Kapuscinski
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Twain
Cleopatra: A Life, Schiff
Go Your Own Way, Conlon
I’d Know You Anywhere, Lippman
JD Salinger: A Life, Slawenski
Life, Keith Richards
Little Man, What Now, Fallada
Long Way Home, Caldwell
Minding Frankie, Binchy
Nomad: From Islam to America, Hirsi Ali
Operation Mincemeat, Macintyre
The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver
Sh*t My Dad Says, Halpern
Still Alice, Genova
Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart
Tales of a Female Nomad, Gelman
The Emperor, Kapuscinski
The Hangman’s Daughter, Potzsch
The Help, Stocket
The Other, Kapuscinski
The Paris Wife, McLain
The Shadow of the Sun, Kapuscinski
The Soccer War, Kapuscinski
The Tiger’s Wife, Obreht
The Year She Fell, Rasley
Travels with Herodotus, Kapuscinski
Unfamiliar Fishes, Vowell
Wanderlust and Lipstick, Whitman
A lot of these books are about traveling, or travelers. As someone who is passionate about both reading and traveling, it is easy to understand why those topics appeal to me. I love reading about far away lands, or close by cities through someone else’s eyes. I love hearing stories about fellow wanderers, whether real or imagined. And, I love that now I can do that without having to carry 75 pounds of magazines!!