Monday, December 15, 2014

Vacation Reading, Honeymoon Part 3

It will come as a shock to roughly 0% of you that I spent a lot of thought on what to bring with me to read and how to bring it. For airport-to-lodgings convenience, we decided to use our hiking backpacks and pack relatively lightly, both for travel weight and to leave room for the books we were going to buy while traveling. Luckily, I had recently purchased one of those fancy little touch screen computers that can also make phone calls and I already had a Kobo account, so I planned to do most of my reading on my phone. Then I had to choose what to read.

This was actually a fairly difficult decision, as I had to have options that were likely to fit with the brain space I would have when I got the chance to read. I had to aim for a middle space between the difficult challenging work that I enjoy and my preferred version of fluff, because, most likely, I wouldn't be up for scholarship, but I would still have enough energy to care about plot structure and sentence quality.

So, since I would be going to New Zealand I chose The Luminaries, a big Booker Prize winning novel rich in history and characters (I'd actually describe it as a museum of humanity as much as it is a novel.) and because it was associated in Edelweiss with a certain other book relevant to my interests, I also chose Inherent Vice. All told, I'd have to say I chose wisely. Both books have enough substance to keep my brain engaged, but not so much required difficulty (though both could stand up to more scrutiny than I gave them) that I couldn't handle them on the plane or after a full day of doing stuff.

And overall I didn't mind reading on my phone. It would never be my exclusive choice (more on that later) but it had its advantages. My favorite of those advantages is that it is very easy to sneak a couple minutes of reading here and there with the phone that is always in your pocket. I didn't get much of a chance to just sit and read for an hour or more (and I did miss that) but I was able to piece together a fair amount of reading time through stray moments here and there.

But, I couldn't bear the thought of my reading dependent upon battery life. I think this is one of those ideas that will distinguish people; either the thought of that dwindling battery with no other reading option sounds like an inconvenience you could deal with or the very thought of it is kindling the fires of a minor panic attack. So I needed a book that wasn't too heavy, both in intellectual and physical weight, and since I had a bunch of books in my queue already, something that I didn't need to finish. I considered a number of poetry collections before I ultimately went with Approximate Man & Other Writings by Tristan Tzara. The reason this particular collection rose to the top is because, well, I think about Dada a lot, and I sometimes fancifully wonder how different twentieth and twenty-first century literature would be, especially postmodernism and its various shades and incarnations, if Dada, with its willingness to embrace silliness, had subsumed Surrealism rather than the other way around, and so having Approximate Man handy would not only ease my reading anxiety, but contribute to one of “Josh's Grand Theories,” as well.

Oh and I bought the British Penguin Classic edition of The High Window The High Window by Raymond Chandler, because, goddamnit, I saw a shelf with all those orange covers, and goddamnit, I absolutely had to buy one.

And, of course, we also had to be buy books as well, specifically books that are not readily available in the U.S. (Which is actually, moderately difficult to do.) How were we able to choose books from a selection we were totally unfamiliar with, composed almost entirely of authors we had never heard of? It's actually a very sophisticated system, but I think I can break it down in such a way that you'll be able to apply it in your own travels. Here it is:
1. Ask the booksellers what to buy and then buy what they tell you to buy.

So, here's what they told us to buy.

The Naturalist by Thom Conroy 
Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne
Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLaughlan
Civilization: Twenty Places On the Edge of the World by Steve Braunias
I Got His Blood on Me: Frontier Tales by Lawrence Patchett

One final word about our the reading and book buying on our trip. Books are really, really expensive in Australia and New Zealand. There's freight, there's tax, there's the exchange rate. Add that all up and a TRADE PAPERBACK, ends up as $27.09 in U.S. dollars. So please, please, please, given that the library provides access to free books, given that Project Gutenburg provides free books, given that the cost of books has not kept place with inflation, and given that there are places in the world where books cost vastly more than they do here, can we stop saying books are too expensive? Yes, in light of the wage stagnation that has dragged down the American economy for nearly forty years now (Thanks Reagan!) the new book you want might represent a greater percentage of your disposable income than you would prefer, but the solution to that is not whining about indie bookstores and then giving your money to a tax-dodging, union busting, money-losing, digitized warehouse, it's fighting to raise the minimum wage.

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