I never go anywhere without a book.
And I especially never go travelling without one.
It’s very satisfying to know you can open up the pages and instantly escape from airports, train stations, queues, bus stops and check-in counters.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of my favourites to help you pull a literary disappearing act too.
It features the classics, short story collections and what I’m reading at the moment. Let me know if I’ve missed anything.
Short stories are ideal for airport waiting where there’s a lot of aimless sitting about, punctuated by short periods of actually doing stuff.
It’s so much easier to dip in and out of a book when you can read it in handy, bite-size, installments.
Also, the short story niche of the publishing industry isn’t exactly booming so I like to show support – a good short story is an art form and few do it well.
Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King
Stephen King does it very well indeed. Known primarily for his novels, I actually think his real talent is for snappy, unsettling, downright disturbing short stories.
My favourite collection is Everything’s Eventual (a highlight of which is Lunch at the Gotham Cafe, which made me laugh and shudder in equal measure) but the earlier volumes (Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Skeleton Crew) are also great.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
For something a little more recent, check out The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Written after the two novels that made her (almost) a household name, these are 12 stories detailing the experience of immigrants to the US.
It’s a totally engrossing read and fans of Americanah will recognise the writer’s skillful handling of themes like alienation, culture, identity and family.
Up Up Up by Julie Booker
I read Up Up Up a few weeks ago while stuck in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
We were waiting not-so-patiently at the gate with a bad case of Bored And Tired when I pulled it out of my bag and delved inside.
It did the job – curing my travel fatigue and capturing my imagination.
With these honest, simply-wrought stories Booker explores friendships, marriages, the dynamics of travelling with strangers, loss and romance.
There’s even a story about a female clown trainer in the mix and that’s not something you come across every day.
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
When I was 14, I had a thing for John Steinbeck. That was also the year my family decided to do a summer road trip around America.
I knew immediately what book I wanted to take with me: Travels With Charley.
Travels with Charley is a memoir/travel diary written by Steinbeck in 1960 as he set out to traverse America in a camper van with his poodle (the Charley of the title).
While we didn’t do all of Steinbeck’s route there was enough of an overlap for me to feel as if we were following in his footsteps and, to this day, the book has a special place in my heart.
Besides being a fascinating depiction of a country on the brink of change and widely diverse in its outlook, it’s also full of Steinbeck’s dry humour, gentle observations and blunt honesty.
Journey Without Maps by Grahame Greene
There’s a reason The Independent calls Journey Without Maps, “One of the best travel books this century.”
Written in 1936, it tells the story of Greene’s trip to Liberia, travelling through Sierra Leone to Grand Basse – a journey that the novelist would later describe as “life-altering”.
This is no heroic account of testosterone-charged adventures in the African bush. Greene, who was accompanied by his young cousin Barbara, clearly has no idea what he’s doing.
He’s out of his depth and completely overwhelmed – which makes for a great narrative.
I usually have two or three books on the go (more it it’s a book club month) so thought I’d share what I’m reading at the moment.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
This recommendation is more for the Kindle crowd. A Brief History of Seven Killings is not a short book so be warned – if you’re going to lug it around in your carry-on, neck strain may result (I speak from experience, having permanent back ache thanks to my big-book habit).
A Man Booker Prize winner, this epic begins with the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1970s Jamaica.
From there it moves back and forth between Jamaica and the US and spans several decades, deftly weaving together the story lines of a number of very disparate characters – Kingston gangsters, a CIA operative, an American journalist just to name a few.
Days after I finished this book I couldn’t stop talking about it.
I still can’t.
“It’s not a book, it’s an experience” I kept telling everyone who would listen.
And it’s true – this is a book that grabs you and pulls you under. You come up gasping for air 500-odd pages later and wonder what just happened.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
This was a recommendation by a friend, but it wasn’t too much of a hard sell because I had read Commonwealth by the same author and loved it.
Patchett has an easy, accessible style, and she uses it to tell stories with real depth. This is a beach read, for those who hate beach reads.
State of Wonder follows an American scientist who is forced to go searching deep in the Brazilian jungle for a colleague who died leaving a lot of unanswered questions.
What makes it a winner is the sheer descriptive power of Patchett’s writing. Read this sitting in a sterile, plastic airport waiting room and you’ll be transported to the muggy, dense, bug-filled world of the Amazon.