Sunday, August 03, 2008

Travel Books

Traveling is a distracting business. On planes, worries about connections, luggage, and sudden mechanical failures resulting in fiery explosions make me antsy. And things don’t get any better once I arrive at my destination (phew). I’m always either busy having oodles of fun, or occupied by sitting for endless hours in non-descript conference rooms, noting that the distant fountain I can see from the window surges upwards every 65 seconds. Life becomes very full.

This doesn’t leave me much time for reading. And when the opportunity does present itself, I’m usually too unfocused to really sink into a book that I’ve never read before. My mind is always too busy elsewhere. Still, it’s impossible for me to board a plane without actually bringing a book in tow. So, when traveling, I always make it a point to pack at least one book-friend.

A book-friend is one of those books I’ve read so many times it’s easy to open to any page, peruse only a few paragraphs, and still be delighted. My book-friends are wordy and fun, and generally star plucky heroines known for their intelligence. They are books I can live comfortably with, that distract me from any unnecessary worries and yet don’t keep me up late at night because I’m *dying* to know what happens. But best of all, they’re the sort of books that no matter how many times I’ve read them, I always manage to find something new and amusing in their pages.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently, which gave me the opportunity to re-read three book-friends. Two have already been reviewed (by me), and the third needs no explanation. So I’ll keep things brief.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Full Review

I re-read this one in patches, starting 2/3 of the way through with Lord Peter Wimsey’s initial appearance, and then going back to the beginning and reading what I’d missed. Although I know the “Lord Peter appears!” section of the book very well, I’m not as familiar with the portions where Harriet goes sleuthing on her own, and it was tons of fun to roam Oxford with her at night, and be sardonically amused with the falls, fumbles, and foibles of hapless undergraduates (and, sometimes, college dons). Always fantastic.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

Full Review

I knew I would re-read this at some point, and it was just as good the second time around. Different, too, because I could pick out the clues I’d missed before. The acrobatic writing and cheeky academic references are still what make Pessl’s debut shine, because the plot in less competent hands would have been rather ho-hum. But when a writer uses sentences like “The black sky, pinpricked by light, couldn’t help but show off like Mozart at five,” I’ll always be coming back for more.

And, to Pessl’s great credit, I’m still uncertain of my feelings towards the heroine’s dad, whom I described in the scribbled margins of my copy as a “most lovable asshole academic.” When you’ve read a book twice and still find yourself in a love-hate relationship with one of the main characters, you know you’ve found something out of the ordinary.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The best thing about re-reading Pride and Prejudice is coming across little gems that never made it into one of the (many) film adaptations. For example, Lizzy’s cynical and (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek description of how she looks forward to visiting the Collinses at Hunsford: “Thank Heaven! I am going tomorrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all.”

She’ll be proven wrong, of course. But it’s still fun to see how.

p.s. – Sucked you in with the picture of the Airplane! poster, didn’t I? *grins*

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posted by Elizabeth at 3:31 PM


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