Saturday, June 23, 2007

The best books to travel with

The Guardian polled a number of eminent authors for their tales about the books they have taken on journeys. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reports on reading Balzac's Le Père Goriot on a bus trip in her home country of Nigeria, and later reading Marie-Elena John's novel Unburnable on a flight from New York to Copenhagen; Julian Barnes writes about reading John Updike's "Rabbit" novels on the way to, and then traveling around, America; and Bill Bryson's remembers the two books that bucked him up on a 21-day winter visit to Norway.

There is much more, so read on.

Here's Ian Rankin's entry:

A few years back, my wife and I headed off on a rare holiday without our two sons. My brother-in-law was a diplomat stationed in Nairobi, and we were going to stay with his family for a few days, then embark on a couple of five-day safaris. My wife and elder son had done the same thing the previous year, so I was forewarned: out in the bush, facilities are limited. We would be packing insect-repellent, torches and plenty of batteries. With the prospect of a publess, tellyless two weeks, I started looking for a big fat book to take along. I had the notion of rereading Bleak House, but couldn't find it amid the clutter in my study and was determined not to buy a duplicate copy. Instead, I decided it was time to tackle Tolstoy's War and Peace. The first couple of hundred pages certainly filled the Heathrow-Nairobi flight, but while I enjoyed it, I wasn't so sure about that "greatest ever novel" tag. Tolstoy is good on the upper classes, great at set-pieces, but I found few characters from the lower orders in the story - something separating him straight away from Dickens. Mind you, Dickens wasn't a Count.

War and Peace really came into its own, however, as we lay down to sweat the night away at sundown. My wife had bought me the sort of torch cyclists sometimes use. It could be attached around the head by a strap. This made it the perfect reading companion. Miranda would get me to read bits aloud, especially the lengthy, realistic descriptions of deep Russian winters and the frostbite suffered by the Napoleonic soldiers. The various tents and lodges we slept in didn't run to air conditioning, but here was a worthwhile alternative. By day we had plenty of adventures and misadventures (the near-submersion of our vehicle in a flood being the least of them), and one evening were left to dine alone at a candlelit dinner-table, interrupted only by the roar of a lion in the near-distance. We retreated to our lodge and I strapped my reading-light on again, ready with the next chapter. By the end of the fortnight I'd finished the book. Probably not many people associate War and Peace with the heart of sweltering Africa, but I do.

--Marshal Zeringue