Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Trains, planes, buses and Ambassadors

Over at his blog, zigzackly points to a Guardian series about travel reading, and invites comments on favorite travel reads, thus providing me with a convenient excuse (as though one were needed) to talk about books.

My reading when I'm traveling tends to be mostly poetry, because a) it's easier to read in short spurts, b) it's more amenable to re-reading so I can take fewer books with me and c) I tend to take only books that I own when I travel, and this usually means either philosophy or poetry (I almost never buy fiction anymore).

Not surprisingly, I have travel associations with dozens of volumes of poetry, though the ones that stand out most in my mind are a second-hand copy of Robert Lowell's Selected Poems (in a now obsolete Faber & Faber edition) that was my constant companion on DTC buses all through my second year in college, and Walcott's Midsummer, read on the flight three years ago that brought me to the United States.

The award for my most memorable reading experience, however, goes to Henry James' The Ambassadors, read on a seemingly interminable train journey to I no longer remember where. I'm something of an insomniac anyway, and find it even harder to sleep on trains, so on this particular trip I simply stayed up through the night, wedged awkwardly in the side lower bunk of a second AC train compartment, the gap where the two halves of the bed meet digging into my waist, and read and read and read. Something about the momentum of that journey - the constant sense of motion, the measured metronome of the train, the knowledge of great distances being covered, contradicted every time I looked out of my window by the sameness of the landscape - all this seemed to resonate with James' exquisitely baroque prose, so that lying there, cocooned in the semi-darkness, the book seemed to glow brighter in my hand, seemed to burn in the incandescence of its language, every finely tuned phrase lit up like a tongue of fire. To this day The Ambassadors remains one of my favorite James' novels, and I can never think of it without instantly evoking the memory of that night ride, that long, weary voyage, a cradle endlessly rocking, plunging me into the night.


Szerelem said...

Most of my travel reading is limited to my travel guides - because they are bulky as it is and I really prefer travelling light. (My luggage for all of last months trip was one small stroley). But in general I like reading up on the cities beforehand - sometimes that helps in finding treasures off the tourist track....though my companion during the 15 hour train ride to Istanbul was my Learning Turkish text book. It was an endless source of amusement for my train conductor who would teach me some new words or phrases everytime he dropped by my compartment.
Otherwise hands down Mark Mazowers brilliant, brilliant Salonica: City of ghosts, which I actually read before I went to Thessaloniki.

??! said...

exquisitely baroque?
mind-numbingly labrynthine, more like it.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

I loathe James and his long-winded havering (Jackie Collins for mine!), but I must say you've internalised his cadences.


Anonymous said...

Fal, am trying to find that post on books being your first love..can you help me? Would love to read it again! :)


Falstaff said...

szerelem: Ah, travel guides. I must confess I've never read one. My usual policy is to travel with people who read travel guides. I suspect the closest thing to a travel book I've ever read is Chatwin's In Patagonia (unless you count Kerouac) and that's hardly a travel book.

??! / JAP: Now, now, no criticising the Master, not on this blog anyway. Me loves. He's exhausting, admittedly, but so rich and satisfying. (Jackie Collins forsooth!).

V.: Not sure what post you're referring to, since I don't actually remember writing one about books being my first love. Perhaps this one:

which is about the most comprehensive book post I've ever done.

The Black Mamba said...

travel reading on planes : books I sneak out of my friends' bags. Three Men in a Boat - was the best. :)

what about cars(, while driving them, that is. not reading, but listening... oh, not travelling, but commuting): fav there has to be Wodehouse. And of course, Ignorance, Identity.

Anonymous said...

Nuh-uh, that tag post wasn't what I had in mind..ah well, will dig through your blog again (which btw is fast becoming my favourite past time). :)


Anonymous said...

not related to travel, just a pointer on new poetry

Space Bar said...

Ah...there is osmething to reading on long journeys in a 2nd AC compartment, isn't there? Especially when the AC's been cranked up at night and you're reading by the light of the private light on which you occasionally warm your frozen fingers, and you feel drowsy and content. * deep shuddering sigh*

But I am paranoid when I travel. I always assume that wherever I go, no books will be available or they'll all be Dan Browns and Paulo Coelhos, so I carry at least five books with me: the one I'm reading (never a library book, though); one for when I finish the one I'm reading en route; one for when I'm there; one for when I return; and one for light relief.

Falstaff said...

BM: Okay, remind me to keep my bags very far away from you the next time we travel together.

Three Men in a Boat is lovely though. And now that I think about it, would make for lovely travel reading.

Can't comment on the listening to audio books while driving thing because a) I don't drive and b) I've never listened to an audiobook. Wodehouse would work though. Actually have a travel memory of Wodehouse as well. Will post soon.

v.: Sorry, can't help then. I'd suggest hitting the Personal tag in the side bar and looking through those posts to narrow things down.

anon: Thanks

space bar: Oh, I never rely on unknown bookstores when I'm traveling either (which can get silly sometimes - like when I'm on a weekend trip to NYC and I carry four books with me; I mean it's pretty hard to argue that the Upper West Side won't have any decent bookstores). Though to be fair, the few times I've been in the position where I've been bookless, airport book stalls have always come through for me. I remember this pathetic little book shop in Chennai airport that, belying my low expectations, managed to produce, from among its myriad Danielle Steels and Jackie Collins', a copy of the Collected Short Stories of Saul Bellow.

ggop said...

I think V is referring to I'm a books man myself post.


Phentermine said...

Thanks for interesting article.

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