On Travelling With Books

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I love to read and I love to read on holiday when, despite the children, there is so much more time for it. On the plane, on the beach, beside the pool where the children can easily spend a happy afternoon swimming, or on the balcony in the evenings, a glass of local wine by my side.

I always pack far too many books and I can spend hours deciding which to take with me. Big books that I haven’t the time to read at home, books that have languished forgotten on my bookshelves for years and books that just have to be read at once, like that hardback copy of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ I hauled out to Kefalonia last summer.

There were three of us at various stages of the book around the hotel pool and a woman on the flight home, two rows in front, 50 pages ahead. The moment I finished, I had to go up to her, a complete stranger who’d been inhabiting the same world as me for the last two hours, and talk to her about the book. foggy-read

Because of course, that’s what novels do. They transport us to other worlds so that you can travel to another country without even being on holiday. I’ve never been much of a one for travel books (with the exception of guide books and the wonderful ‘Travels on my Elephant’, Mark Shand’s account of travelling across India on the back of an elephant) but I love novels that truly transport me to another place: the Mexico of Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Lacuna’, the Cairo of Ahdaf Souief’s ‘Map of Love’ and the Japan of Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.

I’ve visited Kabul in ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, Mississippi in ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett and wartime Berlin in ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada. I’ve been to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset and Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell have taken me on a tour of Tudor England in ‘Wolf Hall’. alejandroescamilla-book I can be on the beach in Greece yet in another world entirely.

My memories of books are always intertwined with the memories of the place in which I read them – the battered copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ that I read in the third class compartment of an Indian railway carriage, the intricacies of 19th-century Russia forever mixed up with the loud cries of “Chai! Chai!”, hard mattresses and searing heat.

This summer I will be in Turkey. I’ve already been to Istanbul with Orhan Pamuk’s ‘My Name is Red’. When I’m not having fun with my children on the beach I’ll be travelling to Vienna, Nigeria and occupied France in my head. I’ll let you know what I read.

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19 thoughts on “On Travelling With Books

  1. A lovely post 🙂 I really didn’t get on with My Name is Red, but, like you, I love how books bring people together. I also love reading things where I learn about a place or a time in history. I’m about to write a blog post about a similar theme (bringing people together) – you’ll have to take a look!

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    • Thank you! I would love to read your post. I’m in a Book Club and I really enjoy getting together to discuss books with a group of friends. But then books can bring people together who have never met before just because they’re all in the same world and want to talk about that world with someone else who has been there.

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  2. Pingback: Let’s Talk About Books: How Reading Makes us Sociable | suitcases and sandcastles
  3. Hello! Visiting from Monday Escapes :). I love the feel and smell of physical books, but unfortunately I have completely switched to e-books because I can’t carry them with me. But I love being able to have dozens of books with me at any time :). Thanks for the book suggestions! I’ll have to check them out. I don’t like travel books much either, but I enjoy novels that transport me to another culture and period as well.

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    • Hello! I just can’t bring myself to read books on kindles or iPads although my suitcase is very heavy and it would be SO much easier if I could just slip an electronic device in my handbag instead. When I was away for seven months travelling in India I got over the problem of a rucksack full of books by swapping them at travellers’ bookshelves or with people I met.

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  4. Funny because I was just editing my next post also about books 😀
    Great recommendation, I want to read Alone in Berlin, seems to be the kind of book I like!
    As you I also can take ages to decide which book to take with me, at the moment I’m reading All the Light We Cannot see 🙂 and it’s awesome so far!

    Happy New Year and thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes 🙂

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  5. Hi Clare,

    I am a fellow book lover and love the feel of a good physical book as well!! I don’t enjoy reading on my phone or tablet and pretty much always pack a book or two. I also like to read novels or nonfiction books about places I am traveling such as reading Hemingway in Paris and East Africa and reading The Gate in Cambodia etc. etc.

    One of my first travel blog post back in 2013 was actually about traveling with books, but more about the practical ways a book lover can actually travel with books given luggage limitations:) Perhaps some of this tips may be helpful to you:

    http://independenttravelcats.com/2013/07/10/when-you-still-want-to-hold-a-real-book-tips-for-traveling-with-books/

    Best, Jessica

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    • Dear Jessica, I’m really looking forward to reading your blog post. I remember when I was travelling around India and couldn’t carry lots of books in my rucksack I relied on those book swapping stalls you’d find and much as I was always saddened to leave behind a book I’d loved, I was glad to find something new to read, and hoped that my much-loved books would find a good home too!

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  6. I travel with books – I like a guide book (even tho I pull restaurants etc off blogs before I go) because I find it easier to work out what I want to see as I go along by flicking about pages. I also get fiction set in the country I’m going to, as I like the atmosphere of it, and reading about characters in the places I’ve just been to or am seeing daily…

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    • I love being able to look back at my old guide books and see the receipts left in some of the pages and the notes I’ve written around the edges! It can bring all the memories of a good trip rushing back. I often read books set in a different country to the one I’m travelling in although I’ll often read books set in that country before I go. Sometimes I’m inspired to visit a country precisely because of a book I’ve read!

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  7. I love reading as well. I remember my days as a backpacker and having not only my travel guide book but also 2 novels at time with me – one I was reading and one in reserve. I couldn’t bare the thought of not having a another book to read to take me to a place away from the long journeys on buses and trains.

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    • I absolutely agree about the need to always have a spare book handy. Oh the horror of being without something to read particularly on a long bus or train journey! I think that’s why I always have such an overly optimistic view of how many books I’m actually going to be able to read on holiday – I never finish them all but then I have the luxury of choosing which one I fancy reading at that particular time.

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  8. I feel exactly the same way as you – nothing quite beats the feel of a physical book and my eyes get tired from looking at screens too long (which is why I’ll make this comment and sweet, haha). I know what you mean about memories of the book being mixed up with memories of where you read them. For me, El Principito (The Little Prince in Spanish) will remind me of the beach in Redang, Malaysia where I would read it before dinner 🙂 I liked Anna Karenina but that little man with the hammer gave me actual nightmares!

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    • I agree! Sometimes books are so vivid they do give us nightmares. Mine is the cage with the rats in it which fitted over Winston’s head in Room 101 from Orwell’s 1984… I just love having those memories of reading a book intertwined with the memories of the place you read them. It makes the memories so much more special, I think.

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  9. I don’t really pack books while I travel, I have my Kindle with me but the only times when I do find time to read is when I’m in airports or planes, even though I always plan on reading more, haha.

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    • Boring journeys and long stays in airports are the perfect excuse to get out a good book, aren’t they? I really love a relaxing holiday in the sun though, with a few hours beside the pool reading. It feels like such a treat.

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