Traveling with Books

The scenario begins in waiting. You are at a restaurant, waiting for a friend who is “on the way, bro”, or frozen in a train/bus with a sea of sweat-laced passengers, or a rain cloud goes purgatory and you’re stuck in a mall not knowing what else to do.

In this transitional space, I have countlessly thought to myself: Gaddamit, I should have brought my book.

On a holiday, a book or two is a fundamental part of a packing list. They are basically travel companion, and I find myself having to deliberate, to choose wisely else the wrong book might end up jarringly syncopated and awkward, kind of like when you put on sun screen and a Hawaiian bermudas and show up at a school prom or a gala night (pains me that these things still exist). I kid you not, it can be quite disastrous and I’d find myself at an impulse to run to a nearby bookstore and find another swanky replacement.

Allow me to indulge by sharing some recommendations, a list of books I found to be lovely, honest and trustworthy travel partners:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

In a conversation between Marco Polo and Genghis Khan, this book recounts the lives of fictional cities– the way it breathes, grows and in essence represents a part of what is missing in our very own homes and subjectivities. In every chapter, there’s a city you’d recognise through Calvino’s detailed and magical descriptions. Even in its obscurities and obscenities are cities in which pieces of your soul finds its place. It can sometimes be a difficult read, but an incredibly immersive one as you meander through the streets of the city of Mirrors or of Ghosts, etc. etc.

Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

This is a graphic novel for a pensive, unhurried holiday– when you’re stretching out on the beach, or sipping a warm beverage in the highlands or next to a very scenic landscape. The story starts with Ben Tanaka, an insecure, obsessive Japanese American male in his late twenties, and his arduous search for contentment. Here, Tomine tackles subjects of modern culture, sexual mores, and racial politics with brutal honesty and lacerating, irreverent humor. His sketches guide you in a languorous pace where every frame is an art piece meant to evoke the deepest of emotions and rawest of questions, moving you dolefully until its final page.

Down and About in Paris and London by George Orwell

“He lives in a rhythm between work and sleep, without time to think, hardly conscious of the exterior world. His Paris has shrunk to the hotel, the Metro, a few bistros and his bed”

This book is about poverty. The sort that is almost unthinkable to me– sleeping in grease and cockroach infested kitchens, surviving on cigarette stubs and free tea from the Salvation Army, begging in the streets of cold, rainy Paris. I can imagine this to be quite a nice juxtaposition to how we experience cities: with quite a bit of comfort, considering its sole purpose is to ‘escape’ which itself a luxury. Orwell puts some things into perspective when he talks about poverty: that with it, you worry significantly less. However, poverty hurts you through the gnawing boredom it imposes on you.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

This book could be read anywhere and it will most likely make it to the top of your list. But I can imagine it being a wholesome, sagely companion as you explore new territories, like a child discovering the earth beyond the confines of his sacred home: the texture of a caterpillar crawling up your jeans, the first fall of snow or the rustling of autumnal leaves in an abandoned park. The book tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters.

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At this point I’m deciding between three books: Open City by Teju Cole, A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes or Book of Haikus by Jack Kerouac, and I shall be glaringly predictable by finally choosing a Jack Kerouac piece (sorry, not sorry).

Book of Haikus by Jack Kerouac

The clouds are
following each other
Into Eternity

If you’re on an incredibly busy and mentally stimulating holiday that you cannot possibly sustain any thread of patience for a novel, this will do, and it will have the same hard-hitting effects as any of the books I’ve listed above. Honestly, I’m not a fan of Kerouac, but Book of Haikus was an incredibly pleasant read. In three lines, Kerouac captures the world and its ironically beautiful nuances while allowing his wit and cynicism to bleed through them. Even the most banal, shit-festered creatures and things become mystical, allowing spaces to laugh and ache a little.

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I’d love to know some of your recommendations (please help a sister/stranger/strange person out). Perhaps they’ll top the list when I bring them for my next travel.

Also, you’re free to borrow the books I’ve listed. Just say hi!

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