Is it weird that when I plan to go on a trip, the first thing I think about is what I’m going to read?
I’ve always been disciplined about what clothes I pack. The main reason is that, back in the bad old days, I needed to leave enough room in my bags for all the books I wanted to bring. People would help me with my suitcase and ask, over and over again:
“What have you got in here, bricks?”
Or, sometimes: “...books?”
Now we have e-readers and I can bring literally dozens of books everywhere I go without adding extra weight.
My formula: (BxD)+2
Where B = book unit and D = number of days
So, for a five-day journey, I would need a minimum of seven books.
This policy has served me well. An example would be the day that I flew home from New Zealand and got bumped from my connecting flight five times in a row. I had an eight-hour layover. Not only did I finish an entire paperback book while I sat there, I can even tell you which book: The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne. Fabulous.
In practice, I know that I have maybe an hour a day of solid reading time on vacation. That’s maybe 60-100 pages, depending on the book. I don’t plan my reading material based on Plan A.
This is my backup plan, Plan B for Book.
This is the plan that served me while I sat on the floor in an airport in North Carolina for five hours while everything was closed.
Likewise, five hours on a snowy afternoon at Portland International.
I have a special file folder for all the vouchers we have collected after delayed flights. That folder tells me that my flights are more likely to be delayed than to be on time. Delay means reading time. That’s not even a bad thing!
The last time I flew, I had the middle seat (of course) between two people who did not bring a single thing to do for a three-hour flight. I ask of you.
What did you think you were going to do while you were crammed into two square feet of space for three hours? Count threads in the upholstery?
Apparently you thought you were going to interrupt me and regale me with the details of your family tree.
I’m not just a reader of novels, I’m a storytelling coach. I can tell you right now that even if we were closely related, I could never possibly be interested in the story of your family tree, and neither could anyone else. I don’t care if you’re a direct lineal descendant of Leif Erikson and Mata Hari, there’s no way to make that entertaining. BRING A BOOK.
I’d lend you one, but honestly, what are the chances that you’ll share my interests? I usually can’t even coordinate reading material with my husband, my brother, or my niece, much less a random stranger.
My dad likes the commercial paperback form factor. Since he works for an airline, he travels constantly, and his practice is to give away whatever he’s reading when he’s done. Then he doesn’t have to pack it home. It’s surprising how hard it can be to find a taker for a free bestselling book!
Aren’t people reading anymore?
It’s starting to become apparent why I have travel reading anxiety. Other people worry about what they’re going to wear, and what if they change their mind, and whether other people will like their outfit and want to talk to them. Obligers! I prefer to use my wardrobe as a sort of social gatekeeper. Hopefully my clothing choices will deter uninteresting people, because my reading choices tend not to.
A book in hand is a universally misunderstood symbol. The reader is saying, I so looked forward to this quiet time to enjoy my book uninterrupted. Every remaining inhabitant of the known galaxy interprets it to mean, You are lonely unto death and it is my moral obligation to talk to you every single minute of this journey.
This is part of why I like to be in the B group of flights with unassigned seating. I can walk down the aisle and look for another middle-aged lady with a book or a tablet. We can sit companionably reading side by side and protect one another’s bubble of silence.
I had to confess to my husband, early into our marriage, that I read on airplanes as a way of dealing with my white-knuckle flying phobia. If I start reading before takeoff, I can pretend more or less successfully that we are on a bus. If I have to look to either side, the jig is up.
I’m not an introvert; in fact, I think a lot of people who believe they are introverts are actually shy extroverts like me. I’m an empath. People have been plunking themselves down next to me and telling me their entire life story since I was four years old. Part of why I am such a good and sympathetic listener is my reading habit. It also sets me up to have my energy drained without fair exchange. You want my attention, you want my attention, you want my attention and sympathy (like everyone else does) but all you intend to offer in exchange is a timeline of when you had your children? Or how many cousins you have?
Can’t you just recommend a few books that I might like?
I’m more than happy to do the same. In fact, I might even offer a few titles for your children, your aunties, and your third cousins twice removed.
My next trip is weeks away, and I’m already planning my reading. Audio books for packing, for walking through the airport, for waiting on ground transport. Longform news articles to read offline at the gate. Novels and nonfiction for the flight. I’ve got a wide variety of choices for the wide variety of disruptions that might come up. The next time I’m delayed for five hours with no wifi and nothing to do, I’m ready, and I suggest that everyone else do the same.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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