Thursday, February 7, 2008

Armchairs and travelers

I was reading through the new Lemony Snicket collection of sayings (entitled Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid) and found several to snicker at, but only one that really addressed an enduring issue in my life. Here it is:
There are some who say that sitting at home reading is the equivalent of travel, because the experiences described in the book are more or less the same as the experiences one might have on a voyage, and there are those who say that there is no substitute for venturing out into the world. My own opinion is that it is best to travel extensively but to read the entire time, hardly glancing up to look out of the window of the airplane, train, or hired camel.
This definitely brought back childhood memories of being nagged about having my "nose in a book" while my family was traveling, usually by car. I didn't see the point of looking out the window the whole time. Still don't. But now that I'm driving my own kids around, I do see things that they miss--those shafts of light streaming down through a hole in the clouds, or a fawn leaping across the road.
This summer I faced the reading/travel quandary head on. The new Harry Potter book came out during the first week of our long-awaited vacation in Hawaii. Since Amazon wouldn't promise delivery to our hotel on the day (only the continental US), I reserved a copy for us and another for Allen's family at the Barnes and Noble in Ala Moana mall on Oahu. Ron and Allen took my nieces in the rented convertible to pick it up, and when they brought it back, the kids alternated reading it, some of it on Waikiki beach under an umbrella. Then Ron got it (by this time, we'd gone to the big island). Finally I claimed it for the airplane ride home. Although I wasn't in on some of the book discussion during vacation, I felt like I didn't miss anything and I got to be entertained en route, which is still my preference.
Maybe looking out a car or airplane window has an occasional reward, like knowing where you are (certainly it takes me more effort to establish where I am than it does other people), but I really can't see much of a downside to reading the whole time I'm getting somewhere and back, as long as I'm not the driver. And the more inept I seem to others, the less I have to drive, and the more time I have to read.


Anonymous said...

On our endless trips to Minnesota as a kid, I didn't read that much--but I just told a friend that Doug and I kind of like having to get to the airport two hours ahead because then we get time to read (without having to worry about things around the house that need to be done).

Doug and Maggie are still reading Harry Potter before bed--and they finished #4 Monday night. Tuesday, I went to aerobics and then zoomed to the great local bookstore, Otto's, fifteen minutes before it closed, declaring, "I have a Harry Potter emergency!" The clerk took me straight to the rack and I managed to get the book, so Doug and Mag have their Harry Potter tradition unbroken.

Ron Griggs said...

I rode a lot of buses to and from college, and I learned to embrace those long rides. I would hunch down with my book so the passing scenery didn't distract me (it was better at night) and escape into the pages for hours at a time. I read the Mary Stewart Merlin trilogy--start to finish--on one long 12 hour bus ride. It is like that pleasure of draining your cup in one long, slow draught.

Planes are not like buses, though. Staring out the window is still my favorite airplane activity--it has never worn thin all these years. It delights me to the geography rolling by, or even the endless shapes of clouds.

Post-children, though, I seldom get the window seat anymore. But there are so many distractions in a plane that I have found it almost impossible to recreate that personal literary cocoon from my busriding days. The screens and the attendants keep me from diving too deeply. And the trip feels longer for it.