Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday — Books Read On My Travels

The Top Ten Tuesday prompt this week is “Books I Read On Vacation” but I’ve already tackled that topic in a previous post. So I thought I’d take another path and talk more generally about books I read while travelling.

Before I retired I had to travel extensively for work. Long, boring flights or solo nights in hotels were made slightly more bearable if I had a good book.

I always found packing for those overseas trips stressful experiences. But they were nowhere near as challenging as deciding what books to take on the flights.

Many horror scenarios were imagined in the days building up to the journey.

What if I finished the book before the flight ended? What if I didn’t like the book I’d chosen?

What if I encountered a major delay in an airport which offered nothing more than the latest crime/thriller blockbusters?

What if I couldn’t find. any English language books in the city I was visiting?

In the days before e-readers, I always had two books in my carry on luggage. Plus one or two in the hold luggage depending on the length of the trip. Often, when I got to the departure airport, I’d end up buying at least one more book (just in case) so I’d be struggling to the gate burdened down by a very hefty backpack.

In all my years of work travel, I never did run out of books on the flight. And only once did I struggle to find a book in my destination — there were very lean pickings in Moscow).

All the thought i put into choosing my book companion/s did have one benefit: I can more easily associate a book with a particular trip. Here are my 8 most memorable. Some were read pre blog so I haven’t been able to link to reviews in every case.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Most of my USA trips were to a “city” in Michigan which didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. It did have one redeeming feature — a branch of a book store which stayed open until 10pm each night.

A colleague spotted me in the bookshop one night, weighing up the Murakami novels (they were dauntingly hefty volumes) and recommended I start with Norwegian Wood. An excellent choice for a weekend marked with an ice storm that made it too dangerous to venture out from the hotel.

On a side note, I still haven’t plucked up the courage to tackle the meatier books like 1Q84 or The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.

A Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

That Michigan bookstore was also where I was introduced to the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. A Beautiful Mystery was my introductory read. It isn’t the first title in the series but I was intrigued by its setting in a monastery famed for its Gregorian chants.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I don’t know what possessed me to take The Luminaries on a trip to Asia. It had won the Booker prize a few months earlier and at the time I was trying to read all the winners. But it was more than 800 pages long, took up a large chunk of my bag and was very heavy. I didn’t finish it on the flight over to Japan so had to cart it around with me as i travelled onwards to China and then onto South Korea.

Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb

I once asked colleagues in Belgium to recommend some authors from their country. Amelie Nothomb came highly recommended by several. I thought she’d make a good companion on one of my visits to Brussels. I don’t know how I made this mistake but it wasn’t until I was en route before discovering that Fear and Trembling — was actually set in Japan.

Such A Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry

For my first trip to India I chose Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry. By the time I landed in Mumbai I had a long list of terms I hadn’t understood. Some were about items of clothing, others were dishes and there were many references to Hindu gods. The team in our offices in Mumbai were enthused about trying to explain them all — the clothing was easy but I’m still confused about all those gods.

Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook

A gift from a team mate in Seoul, Please Look After Mom was a huge success in Korea in the early 2000s. It went onto gain international success when it was chosen as an Oprah Winfrey “book to watch.” I thought it might be sentimental but the story of a mother who goes missing in a crowded metro station. was much more thought provoking than I anticipated.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

My final visit to India was the most memorable. I managed to leave my purse containing all my credit cards in Heathrow airport, discovering this only as we came into land. Panic ensued for the next few hours with frantic calls to the bank and credit card companies to cancel the cards.

My husband managed to wire me money the next day fortunately but for more than 12 hours I was in another country, thousands of miles from home, without any money. All I could rustle up was a £1 coin which even in India wouldn’t have got me very far.

So all I could do on day one was stay in my room, watch Bollywood films on TV and read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis

I’d never heard of Machado de Assis before I visited Brazil. Dom Casmurro, the book considered his finest novel, is required reading for every child in the country, much like Jane Austen or the Brontes were in the UK once upon a time.

I started reading it on my journey home. It was completely bonkers.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

34 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday — Books Read On My Travels

  • Once you start 1Q84, you won’t be ale to put it down (because of the literary structure, you will see). I actually felt it could have been longer, for me

  • The reason I got an e-reader in the first place was exactly the problem of carrying books on travels. My introduction to fast-paced thrillers such as Lee Child or David Baldacci books actually happened because I would often by a book in the airport, whenever my flight was delayed or I just ran out of reading material. I am impressed though, that you actually remember which books you read on which trips.

    • My memory wasn’t good enough though to get me to 10 titles! I did keep notes on books I was reading so that helped too

  • From every story there is likely to hang … another story, and that’s what you’ve done here – I really enjoyed these anecdotes, and now wonder if the circumstances in which you read the books have forever coloured the way you think of them?

    • Interesting question. I think it’s true that they are more vivid just because of the circumstances in which I read them. That helped cemet them in my memory. There were scores of trips when I have no recollection of what I was reading though

  • I just love Roy’s The God of Small Things. I read it for my MA, and re-read twice since: once on a flight to Canada (it was left on a seat in the airport with a note, ” for someone else to enjoy”), when I’d just realised I’d packed all my books in my suitcase, which was on its way to the hold, And again, last year, when it was given to me as a present. I quite like the sound of Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook, Must look for that. Thanks, as always, an interest read from yourself, Karen.

    • Wow, that was a lucky find in the airport. I’ve heard that books left on the seats in planes just get collected with the rubbish so I’ve never done that. Would be better to leave it in the departure gate area though – someone just like you might be glad of it

  • I did enjoy reading this! I remember those days of lugging around a million books, if you are a travel lover and want to explore beautiful places the go for Ahemdabad city the heart of Gujarat
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    • Thanks for telling me about your company. Its going to be quite a time before I get to India again but I will give some thought to visiting Gujarat

  • I read the Catton ages ago, or listened – 29 hours! – and thought it not worth the effort, but then I don’t like Hist.Fic. Murakami I love and I’ve listened to 1Q84 at least twice, and have read maybe half his others. Arundhati Roy is amazing. I’ve read – actual books made of paper – both the God of Small Things and the Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
    Like you, I carry books wherever I go. Twenty of thirty in my truck, theoretically for when I break down but I’m broken down now and reading SF off my daughter’s shelves.

    • I don’t think I would have had the patience to listen for 29 hours – the book wasn’t that rivetting. The tv adaptation of it which was broadcast a couple of years ago wasn’t up to much either.
      For the distances you travel, I can understand why you need a library in the truck. Hope you get moving again soonish

  • I did enjoy reading this! I remember those days of lugging around a million books, just in case. And then the horror of finding that you couldn’t read the Kindle unless the seatbelt sign was turned off!

    • I’d forgotten that rule. It only seemed to be the US airlines that enforced it. They wouldn’t even let you keep the device on your lap, insisting it had to go into the seat pocket. I was not a happy bunny on those occasions….

      • Well, I couldn’t tell you which airline it was, (though it would have been long haul) because I’ve only ever once flown Air Lauda (never again), Qantas (never, never again) and Singapore Airlines (every other trip, wouldn’t go any other way).
        We flew to London barely a fortnight after 9/11, and although (obviously) the security system was hyper alert, it wasn’t the intrusive nuisance it has become since the panic over explosives in a shoe.

        • I’d forgotten all about that shoe episode. Even now there are still restrictions on the liquids that can be taken through security which is ludicrous

        • I know, it’s ruined the whole carefree side of airline travel.

        • Yep, I’m feeling nostalgic for those early days of air travel where you weren’t crammed in like sardines and fed appalling food.

        • I don’t care about that. I mind all that queuing and having to spread out all your belongings at the security scan. It seems obscene to me that we go to all that trouble, expense and inconvenience and do nothing about the risks to people less privileged who will definitely die before their time because of hunger, disease and deprivation.

        • Sometimes the scale of the issues feels overwhelming

        • Modern life. Books help us ignore it.

  • Shut the front door! My first Gamache book was Beautiful Mystery! My Mom wouldn’t rest until I read it. Now, is Ann Arbor the Michigan “city”? Really curious due to the “quotation marks” around city.

    • I so wish it had been Ann Arbour but sadly it was Midland – I know they called it a city but in the UK you can use that descriptor only for places which have a cathedral. To me Midland was just a big town

  • I must admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Catton’s Luminaries. As you say in your review, extremely well done but lacking that elusive something that makes for a truly great novel.
    I really must try Machado de Assis . . .

    • After I read Luminaries I discovered that each chapter was meant to link to a part of the zodiac. Honestly I never noticed that at all, even if I had, I don’t think I would have understood the point of it.

  • Great post, that India experience is my worst nightmare. I share your luminaries pain; Before e-readers I used to drag huge books on my holidays, terrified I’d be bookless, especially in queues. Remember dragging Papillion up the stairs of the sagrada familia. Praise be for e-readers, but the fear back then was real.

    Wind up bird chronicle is one of my favourite Murikamis, but I understand your trepidation with IQ84. I ate it in small bites, but I did enjoy it.

    • You climbed all those stairs carrying Papillion!! At what point did you begin wishing you had a smaller book with you?

      I bought my first e reader as soon as I got home from the Brazil trip having carried 5 books in my shoulder bag.

  • Such an enjoyable post, Karen. Your credit card experience is the stuff of nightmares. I’m glad Bollywood and The God of Small Things got you through it.

    • Without cash I wouldn’t have been able to get a taxi to a hotel. Without a credit card I wouldn’t have been able to check in anyway. My colleague was able to step in so I didn’t have to spend the night in the airport and catch the first flight home. Nightmare indeed

  • I enjoyed Norwegian Wood but could never get very far with any of his other books. As for Dom Casmurro, I loved it!

    • I enjoyed Dom Casmurro though I don’t think I understood much of it. I just enjoyed being completely baffled


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