Our Reading Lives

How To Choose a Book As Your Traveling Companion

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Erika Harlitz-Kern

Staff Writer

Erika Harlitz-Kern holds a doctorate from a Swedish university and can't get enough of history, books, and music. Her earliest memories involve a comic book and a Dutch troubadour. She has travelled South Asia on a shoestring, although nowadays she spends most of her vacations in the Mississippi Delta. Lives with her husband in South Florida, because sooner or later they would've ended up there anyway. Blog: The Boomerang Twitter: EH_Kern

Here on Book Riot, James Crossley wrote a post about books as literary traveling companions and it made me think. I, too, travel with books.

When I choose a book as my traveling companion, I follow four self-imposed rules.

First, the book I choose can’t be a book that I’m already reading. In other words, I don’t bring with me the book(s) I have on my nightstand.

Second, it can’t be a book I already own. This means that the not-yet read books in my bookcase are disqualified.

Third, the book can’t be written by an author I would normally read. This means that I can’t pick a book by, for example, Stephen King, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or Jhumpa Lahiri.

Fourth, if I’m at an airport, I can’t buy the book before I’ve gone through security and passport controls. To me, once you’ve gone through, that’s when the journey begins. Consequently, prior to flight departure you are more likely to find me in the airport bookstore than at the gate of my flight.

The purpose of the trip itself is not important; I could be going on vacation as well as traveling on business. However, the trip needs to cover a longer distance and bring with it a sense of anticipation or adventure. For example, I don’t pick a book as a traveling companion when I go to visit family for the holidays (although in some families that might qualify as an adventure), but I do choose a book when I’m traveling somewhere I’ve never been.

To my great delight, my tradition of choosing a book as my traveling companion has got my husband involved. It has happened on more than one occasion that before we have even left the house, he asks me about what book I’ll be buying once we get to the airport.

51RhIK1fcGLSometimes the book I’m traveling with becomes more than a companion, as in the case of Elizabeth George’s In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, a mystery novel featuring the team of Detective Inspector Sir Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers. This book was different because, as it turned out, the story mirrored parts of my trip.

Here’s what happened.

I was going to Great Britain for a week. A total of five days in London and two in Edinburgh. I had visited Great Britain before, but London was new to me. During the daytime, I went around the British capital, sightseeing and meeting people. In the evenings I returned to my hotel room, picked up In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner and discovered that during each day the characters of the novel had visited the same places I had. What made the experience even more eerie was that when I got on the bus to Edinburgh, the story traveled north with me. Instead of visiting the same places in London, the characters and I traveled along the same roads. Not until we reached northern England, where I continued to the Scottish border and they went to the Peak District, did the story and I part ways.

Bringing a book as a traveling companion is to travel in two dimensions, simultaneously. On the one hand, I’m physically traveling, going from point A to point B. On the other hand, my mind is traveling too, but through a story.

And by sticking to my four rules, I have discovered authors whose books I otherwise wouldn’t have read.

What is your relationship to books when you’re traveling?