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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.

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