IMG_0318When I was a brand new bookseller, a customer asked me how many books she should bring on her upcoming five-day vacation. I told her I would bring five books. She looked aghast, so I quickly told her that I knew I wouldn’t actually read that many books. Several of my books are insurance — what if the flight is delayed, finally boards, then sits on the runway for an hour waiting to take off, and then, when it arrives at its destination, sits on the tarmac for an hour waiting for a gate? What if the flight circles the airport forever and finally is diverted to another airport, from which I have to take a bus to my home airport? What if one of the books is a huge disappointment? My mother was once waiting for a connection in an airport and started reading a book that turned out to be so awful she left it at the gate. It was a hardcover book, and she couldn’t bear to throw it out, even though it was unreadable.

After the customer left the store (with a bag of four books), Sue, who was trying to train me in the art of bookselling, told me that most people probably wouldn’t bring one book for every day of a trip. I explained to her my ideas about insurance, and also mentioned that I thought the customer’s question was rather odd. She was a complete stranger to me; how could I possibly know how voracious a reader she was? This was just the first of many unusual questions from customers I’ve tried to answer. The trick, as I now know, is to answer the question with a question: “How many books did you bring on your last trip? How did that work for you?”

Flash forward almost 16 years. Sue sold Lake Forest Book Store and moved to Glen Arbor, Michigan, where she’s now the owner of the Cottage Book Shop. After surviving her first winter in the Snow Belt, she went with her daughter to visit friends in sunny Arizona. I was on vacation at the same time and Sue and I exchanged a few texts about what we were reading. (She highly recommends Herman Koch’s upcoming book, Summer House with Swimming Pool.) Then I received this text: “I’ve read all my physical books. Should have brought more.” She didn’t bring any insurance. Sue had anticipated more activity and less reading time on this trip.

cvr9781451621389_9781451621389_lgSue downloaded some books from Edelweiss on her IPad. (Edelweiss is a service that allows booksellers, reviewers, librarians, etc. to download free advance readers’ copies.) But, she told me, she doesn’t read on her IPad out of the house. She wants to present a good example to the reading public. So Sue ended up buying a book at full retail price at the airport bookstore. The book was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan, and Sue says it was well worth the price. Still, maybe next time she will bring an extra book (or two) . . . just in case.

You would think that, with the advent of e-books, I wouldn’t feel the need to pack extra books. I am perfectly willing to read my IPad in public, although I confess to walking down the aisle of the airplane and taking a quick poll of how many people are reading real books. (According to a recent Pew research study, last year 70% of American adults read at least one physical book and 28% read an e-book, compared with 66% and 23% in 2012.) I will always prefer turning the pages of a book. And I can’t rely on my IPad . .  what if it malfunctions, or the battery dies and there’s nowhere to recharge it? So I keep stuffing one more book in my carry-on, because you never know what could happen.

ImageThank goodness for airport bookstores! I always like to pick up a magazine or two before a flight. Recently, however, I visited the most inhospitable airport convenience store ever. This one couldn’t possibly be called a bookstore, because it had only a few dusty paperbacks and a very limited selection of magazines. Posted over the sad little magazine and book display was a sign that said, ” PLEASE NO READING”. I found this amusing, and snapped a photo — only to be escorted out of the store by the very unamused manager. What if I had run out of reading material and really needed to buy some? What would I have done then?

9781250037756In case you’re wondering what else Sue read (besides Summer House with Swimming Pool and Brain on Fire), she finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (“quirky”) and Essentialism by Greg McKeown (“read it straight through”), and started The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. I read Essentialism as well, and can’t wait to tell you more about it in a couple of weeks — the publication date is April 15.

For more of my thoughts on bringing extra books on trips, check out an earlier post: Leaving on a Jet Plane. Maybe I’ve exhausted this topic, but I just hate to think of a reader stranded without a good book.



15 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale

  1. During a family vacation I was elected to carry home all of the collected reading material that we had brought with us. I had a total of 19 paperback books in my carry on bag–and each one had been finished. This could have been a family record!

  2. 20 years ago I was at a resort in Mexico. The book selections at the gift shop were in many languages. The only one in English was “The Life Story of Brad Pitt”. Luckily I managed to borrow a book from someone at the pool who had an interesting book to share.

    1. So you understand about overpacking books. You can always wash your clothes, but you don’t want to reread books. That Brad Pitt bio must have been pretty short — sounds like it was published when he was no more than 30!

  3. In a former life, I was a UN peacekeeper and packed some crazy books – ALL wrong! I don’t think I read a one. I brought and did not read (I tried) Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag (I should have had her sign it at least – she was staying at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn where my soon to be husband stayed) Moby Dick, Midnight’s Children and a T.C. Boyle I can’t remember the title of. WHAT was I thinking? I still have not read any and probably won’t. (all right – I’ll give Moby Dick a shot…)
    I also just snagged a copy of Essentialism from work and am ALSO reading The Steady Running of the Hour! Have you read An Unnecessary Woman? That’s next on my list – beloved by my dear friend Nina Sankovitch (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and soon to be released Signed Sealed Delivered)
    Oh, I think we could talk books!
    My NOOK remains uncharged and dusty for the last months – although I do love the feature where you can just touch the word and get the definition. I never bother to get up and look up a word in the dictionary.

    1. Tricia, I’ve heard amazing things about An Unnecessary Woman — I need to get my hands on a copy. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about Essentialism and The Steady Running of the Hour. I’m usually not much of a business/self-help book reader, but Essentialism really resonated with me. One of my coworkers is reading The Steady Running of the Hour now and raving about it. Plus, I met Justin Go at a conference and he was adorable. Probably young enough to be my son.

      I don’t know Nina, although I feel as if I do. I wrote to her after I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, which I absolutely loved. It turns out we both went to Tufts and although we weren’t in the same class, we were just a couple of years apart. I also loved Signed Sealed Delivered — looking forward to reviewing it.

      I’m sure we could talk books for hours! 🙂

  4. Great article Ann and so true!! My question is always how many needlepoint projects to take on a trip? Always bring too many but I want to be covered!! Same with books!!

  5. Yes, it’s important always to be covered! I am trying to learn needlepoint. Candice gave me a tiny little project (a luggage tag) and even that is intimidating me. She promised she would teach me, but I don’t know if she knows how hopeless I am at anything involving a needle. Have you been to her beautiful new shop?

  6. I’m proudly and loudly an ereader. I’m a slave to my Kindle, especially since I received the Paperwhite for Christmas. That being said, I will take a few hard copy books with me when I travel, I’ve never had a malfunction or battery problem in seven years of using Kindles (holy cow, has it been that long?) — at least not on the go.

    That being said, I love airport bookshops, I think that the picture you took was totally worth getting escorted out, especially since you didn’t need any backup books. 🙂 (Which airport was it?)

    Thanks for linking up with Spread the Love!

    1. April, thanks for hosting the Linky Party! I actually have had an IPad malfunction — which was totally due to my own clumsiness. I dropped it on pavement — ouch.

      Oh — the airport was St. Martin in the Caribbean. There was nothing good to eat in that airport either.

  7. Aw I love this post! I found it on the Spread the Love Linky Party and think it’s just great! I am the same as you – not only do I like to bring book insurance, but I like to have options when I’m on vacay, too! I hate the idea of being forced to purchase a book on vacation in a hurry! I mean, I love the idea of purchasing books of course, but I don’t want to pay the crazy price of an airport/touristy store.

  8. Visiting from over at Spread the Love–what a great post! I don’t travel all that often–maybe a couple of times a year–but one of my fears is being stranded with NOTHING TO READ. I still mainly read physical books at home, but I do load up my kindle with a lot of different options before I travel. You just never know what mood you’ll be in! I’ve never thought of it as being “book insurance” before, but that’s exactly what it is!

  9. I never quite got those people who would arrive at places that guaranteed a line and a wait (motor vehicles, airport, doctor’s office) without something to read. Really? My dad taught me to always have a “car book” that you could grab when leaving the car, or when stuck immovably in traffic. Reading on a phone screen is just not the same!

    Found you via Linky Party. Feel free to visit my blog when you can!

  10. I know a lot of people dislike travelling, but I actually love airports – you can always buy as many books and snacks as you want and it’s hard to do anything other than read while you’re there. I think it’s a great excuse to relax and just read for hours 🙂 I also pack a ton of books when I travel, but more so I can mood read than as insurance against delays.

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