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Sunday, 24 June 2007

Books to travel with

In my small bag with a change of clothes were my notebooks and my book for the trip....

What to read when you're travelling by boat to Borneo? A House for Mr Biswas, says Paul Theroux. On a plane from Copenhagen to New York? Unburnable, suggests Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The UK Guardian asks two dozen writers for anecdotes about books they've travelled with (part one, part two).

For me, one of the hardest decisions to make when I'm packing for a trip--even a short one--is what books to take. Taking a single book (unless I'll be away from home just overnight) seems foolhardy--what if my mood changes, and I want something funnier, something more meditative, something that can be read in short sips, or in long, extended draughts? For years now I've taken my battered little paperback edition of Yeats everywhere I go--it's become a sort of safe-travel token, my version of a St Christopher medal. It's been to a dozen countries with me. It even went up Mt Roraima a few months ago, wrapped in a waterproof pouch (along with An Area of Darkness and my journal). And of course it was in my pocket when I finally visited Yeats's grave in Drumcliff churchyard, County Sligo, in 2005.

I took Derek Walcott's Collected Poems on my first trip to St Lucia, and re-read it there nearly cover to cover, the metaphors unfurling with dewy freshness from the pages. I took The Middle Passage and Evelyn Waugh's Ninety-two Days on my last trip to Guyana, charting my own progress through the interior against theirs. In Delhi last December, William Dalrymple's City of Djinns was my bedtime companion, and I felt I was growing to understand the city along two parallel tracks--my daytime wanderings and my nighttime reading.

And you, dear readers? What are your reading-while-travelling stories? Best pairings of places with books? Or books that are forever associated with the city or lake or jungle or mountain where you first read them? Leave your stories in the comments below.

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