“All tourists cherish an illusion, of which no amount of experience can ever completely cure them; they imagine that they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading. They see themselves, at the end of a day’s sightseeing or motoring, or while they are sitting in the train, studiously turning over the pages of all the vast and serious works which, at ordinary seasons, they never find time to read. They start for a fortnight’s tour in France, taking with them The Critique of Pure Reason, Appearance and Reality, the complete works of Dante, and the Golden Bough. They come home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter of the Golden Bough and the first fifty- two lines of the Inferno. But that does not prevent them from taking just as many books the next time they set out on their travels.

Long experience has taught me to reduce in some slight measure the dimension of my travelling library. But even now I am far too optismistic about my powers of reading while on a journey. Along with the books which I know it is possible to read, I still continue to put in a few impossible volumes in the pious hope that some day, somehow, they will get read. Thick tomes have travelled with me for thousands of kilometres across the face of Europe and have returned with their secrets unviolated.”

Aldous Huxley, ‘Books for the journey’ (1925)

I’m afraid I have to admit that I’m one of those incurable travellers with the cherished illusion that “….. they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading”  but ends up returning “….home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter….”. :p

However, I won’t be surprised that I’m not the only one here harbouring such illusions. 🙂 Which is probably why more and more readers are turning to e-readers as the ideal solution for being able to carry with them a whole library of works on their travels and yet be able to keep below the luggage limit. Then again, this might seem like we are bringing the whole village along with us on our travels instead of giving our special attention to the one companion or privilleged few, if we prefer, to share the journey with.  It just wouldn’t sound quite as romantic as saying it the way A. Taylor puts it, would it?

“Anita Brookner and I are going on holiday together to St. Andrews. A couple of years back I went with Geirge Eliot to Raasay but it was not a barrel of laughs; there’s still a bookmark in my disintegrating Penguin copy of Daniel Deronda at page 289, in the middle of the chapter called ‘Maidens Choosing’, signposting where we parted company.”

A. Taylor, The List, 22-29 August 1988

And of course, having our extensive (though invisible) choice of books stored in e-readers instead of carrying the actual tomes with us, would definitely not bring about the desired effect for the books to function as how Manguel’s cousin hopes for them to.

“A cousin of mine from Buenos Aires was deeply aware that books could function as a badge, a sign of alliance, and always chose a book to take on her travels with the same care with which she chose her handbag. She would not travel with Romain Rolland because she thought it made her look too prententious, or with Agatha Christie because it made her look too vulgar. Camus was appropriate for a short trip, Cronin for a long one; a detective story by Vera Caspary or Ellery Queen was acceptable for a weekend in the country; a Graham Greene novel was suitable for travelling by ship or plane.”

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (1996)



4 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On The Books We Travel With

  1. I choose my book traveling companions as carefully as my clothes–but I do not usually choose anything very challenging. Travelling is challenging enough! I do like to take a book along that is set in my destination, if possible. And I always like to have plenty to read if I’m flying somewhere. That way delays or long layovers are much easier to take.


    1. You’re right, travelling is challenging enough without having to add on to the challenge with ‘heavy’ books. Like you, I try to take books that are set in destination I am travelling to, if possible too. It makes the connection so much better, and the recollection of both the book and place thereafter, much more vivid. 🙂


  2. When I go on holiday it’s in order to have time to read so the books get packed before anything else. I tend to holiday in England so I can fill the boot of the car with as many books as I like but I can see the attraction of an e-reader if weight is a consideration. However be warned, a friend of mine relied on her Kindle for her holiday reading only to find that an airport scanner had wiped it clean!


    1. What a lovely thing it must be, to be able to fill the boot of your car with books while driving around England! Pure bliss.
      And gee, I didn’t know that airport scanners can do that. Though I have yet to have gotten myself an e-reader and am still doing it the old-fashioned way, I do appreciate the sound warning. Thanks! 🙂


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