Vacation Reading, Unpacked

What books do you read on your trips? I generally choose mine in the manner of a bride organizing her “something old, something new” accessories. So: one contemporary book that I’ve been saving as a reward — this summer, it might be Jennifer Egan’s “The Candy House”; one book that I’ve been meaning to read but have not yet gotten to — perhaps Shirley Hazzard’s “Transit of Venus.”

Also: One absorbing thriller. And then one comforting old friend, often a children’s book like “Charlotte’s Web” or “The Golden Compass.” And I’ll take my Kindle, which is no fun as a literary delivery mechanism, but which has the benefit of putting the world’s library at your fingertips.

If you do it right, you will get off the plane so enamored of your book that you’ll want to keep reading in the customs line, and then continue while waiting for your luggage, and then in the hotel later to help you calm down before going to sleep.

And this brings me back to my second-favorite reading-and-traveling memory, after my youthful car trip. It was June of 1985, and I had just graduated from college. I had no job and as yet no prospect of one, and I didn’t feel great as I prepared to embark on what was meant to be (and would finally be) a transformative Eurail adventure through Europe.

I had booked a cheap seat on a full overnight flight to Paris, and was too anxious and excited to sleep. It didn’t really matter that the book I’d brought, “The Paradine Case,” Robert Hichens’s overwrought 1933 legal thriller about an upstanding, married London barrister who falls in love with a client — a woman accused of poisoning her husband — is not, by most objective standards, a great work of literature. It is a great story. (Hitchcock later made it into a movie, starring Gregory Peck.)

I was hooked from the opening line: “Sir Malcolm Keane, K.C., put on his fur-lined coat in the cloakroom of the Cleveland Club at the corner of Pall Mall, picked up his soft black hat, doeskin gloves and closely furled umbrella, and came out into the big square hall where a huge fire was burning on the wide hearth.” It was full of pointillistic description and high drama and intense emotion, perfect for my febrile mood. As I arrived the next morning, still reading, with Talking Heads’s “And She Was” cranked up on my Walkman, I was exhausted and thrilled. The perfect way to embark on a vacation into the unknown.