I usually get a major case of wanderlust in the summer. Sadly, I don’t always get to satisfy it, but on those occasions where I managed to get away, choosing which books I wanted to bring was right up there with planning my outfits (okay, maybe higher than planning my outfits). On my first trip to England, I happily hauled my massive hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Oxford Shakespeare to keep me company (I needed the latter for class! I swear!), and I might have made a few purchases while I was there, too. I went to Italy the following summer with The Historian and the next HP installment adding a good five kilos to my luggage, and even though they nearly caused me to wipe out on the cobblestones in Florence, they were well worth the evening hours I wiled away reading them. When my friends and I took our epic trip to England and Italy two summers ago, I was mindful of the amount of times we’d be changing locations and limited myself to a single book: a paperback of Bocaccio’s The Decameron. We ended up being so busy that I didn’t make it beyond the first page (sorry, Giovanni). I kept this in mind when I put together my packing list for Ireland and, again, took only one book, the very exciting Grammar for Smart People. By the time I reached Killarney, I was into my second reading and wanted to fork out an eyeball. I hadn’t taken into account that I’d be traveling solo during the low season, when things closed earlier for lack of tourists, and that without my friends, my evenings would generally be wide open (thankfully, a benevolent soul left an old Victoria Holt novel at my hostel in Dublin, so my eyeball was saved).
After I got back from my Ireland trip, I commenced on a search for the perfect books to read while traveling. My criteria were pretty simple: a) the book had to be portable (i.e. paperback, or a really short hardcover), and b) it had to be something short that I could get lost in for a quick stretch of time. And, dear readers, I’ve found them! These are my top three favorites, and please tell me which books make it into your luggage too!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
We all know how much I loved this book, and I think it’s the ideal travel companion too. The story is absorbing enough to fill any down time you might have, be it on the plane or between museums or before bed, and the fact that it’s told in epistolary form means that you can easily come back to it. At just over 300 pages in paperback, it also takes up negligible space in either your luggage or carry-on, which is perfect if you’re a luggage hauler like me!
Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Okay, so you might get location envy if you’re not actually going to Paris, but Eloisa James’s fabulous memoir about moving to Paris with her family for a year is perfect for getting into that travel mindset, especially if you’re heading somewhere cosmopolitan. Like Guernsey, Paris in Love is told in quick bursts, so it’s ideal for reading at intervals or for long stretches. Each chapter begins with a Facebook status update of Eloisa’s about her daily life in Paris and then continues with stories about discovering the city through everything from shopping trips to amusing outings with her children. It’s a book that beautifully highlights how the locals live in Paris and gives a completely different perspective on how to bring Parisian chic into your life. And it’s all made better by Eloisa’s wit, which she maintained despite losing her mother to cancer and then receiving her own diagnosis.
At the moment, this book falls into the “portable hardcover” category, because the paperback won’t be available for a few months yet.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
You didn’t think this mystery/thriller gal would travel without one, did you? I will say, when it comes to travel, it’s difficult to choose books in a series, but the first Maisie Dobbs works because it focuses so heavily on setting up who Maisie is as a character, and when you combine that with the mystery of her first case and the incredible historical details that are synonymous with a Jacqueline Winspear novel, you have the perfect travel mystery. And not only is the paperback teeny, but the beautiful cover is sure to inspire conversation with your seat mate.
I also recommend anything by Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express or The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side are my favorite Poirot and Marple, respectively), Sir Arthur Connan Doyle, and other mystery authors of that era.