Monday, October 31, 2011

Books for the Road by Andy Scheer

Especially since the time I got stuck at O'Hare for nine hours on the way to a writers conference, I take very seriously the matter of selecting books to accompany me when I travel.

I always take an extra book in my carry-on, preferably a thick one, just in case. Plus, an additional mass paperback or two in my checked suitcase.

No, I don't use an e-reader (though my son, who worked at Barnes and Noble, tells me the Nook is my best choice). I'm a traditionalist, I'm a cheapskate, and the three new Goodwill stores in town (which offer free coffee in their well-maintained book departments) sell used mass paperbacks for fifty cents.

This week I'm driving to the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference, followed by speaking to writing students at Taylor University, then driving to Kansas City for the Heart of American Christian Writers Network annual conference. That's twelve days on the road. I think I'll bring three books, perhaps four.

True, most evenings I'll need to invest several hours answering emails and evaluating proposals. But especially after a day of driving cross-country or teaching and taking conference appointments, I know I'll need some down time. So that's where the spread of paperbacks on my desk comes in. After combing my shelves, I've pared the candidates down to six.

But how do I choose? This time I've decided not to bring any books I've already read. That cuts deeply through my collection, including the series by W.E.B. Griffin I'm currently reading.

Still, that leaves room for yet-unread titles by authors whose other books I've enjoyed. Hence these two candidates: An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears and The Sign of the Book by John Dunning.

Set in England in 1663, Fingerpost runs just over 700 pages. In four consecutive accounts, it presents the perspective of four unreliable witnesses to the same murder. Years ago I'd started reading it, but set it aside. Recently it's been calling me to begin the quest anew. But will it require more mental prowess than I'm able to muster, especially if I can grab reading time only in short snatches or at the end of a long day?

Much less daunting, The Sign of the Book is the fifth in a six-book series featuring a policeman turned rare book seller. I've enjoyed the other five. One cause for hesitation is that it's one of those new tall-format mass paperbacks that I find harder to read because of the excessive amount of space between the lines of text. And it's been several years since I've read the other Cliff Janeway stories.

I'm also considering The Historian. At 900 tall-format pages, it's definitely something I can sink my teeth into. A cover blurb describes it as “the phenomenal #1 bestseller” and “a compelling contemporary novel, a late-night page-turner.” But a Boston Globe blurb on the back cover describes it as “genuinely terrifying.” (Personal note: “Seatbelt suspense” writer Brandilyn Collins has inducted me into her “Big Honkin' Chicken Club” for people who find her books too scarey.)

Then there's The Boat, a submarine warfare story set in the Atlantic in 1941. I've read extensively about the Second World War, and this book promises some 550 pages of reading. Rather than relying on academic research, the author himself served in the German navy, including time on submarines. But the entire story is presented from a first-person point of view—in present tense. And I'm a traditionalist.

Next, there's Emerald Decision by Craig Thomas, who, according to a cover blurb, “writes far better than Ludlum.” The back cover calls it a “serpentine thriller—the master writing at the electrifying top of his form” about a quest for a World War II secret “so lethal and shocking that all evidence of it had to be obliterated.” (Has some researcher ever tallied the number of books that turn on a shocking WWII secret?)

Finally, I'm considering The Tribune (“a novel of ancient Rome”) by Patrick Larkin, a comparative lightweight at just under 400 pages. While I've read at least three detective series set in ancient Rome (featuring hard-boiled, gum-sandals), all I know about this book is what I see in its promo blurbs. The author is a “New York Times Bestselling Author,” and one of the endorsers calls the book “a terrific, well-researched thriller” that “does for ancient Rome what The Name of the Rose did for medieval Europe and Gorky Park did for the corrupt Soviet Union.” I've read both of those comparison books, Rose at least three times, but never realized they were “doing anything” for their settings. Still, I liked Gorky Park and have read others by Martin Cruz Smith. But what does that mean for taking The Tribune on my trip to the Midwest?

Rather than a first-page exercise in “would you read on?” consider this an opportunity to ponder “would you take it with you?” that you can apply the next time you go on the road—or write a one-sheet for your novel. We all have different tastes in books. But when I travel, whatever genre of book I bring, I want an account that can keep me involved even when my snatches of reading are interrupted or come at times I'm easily distracted.

Thanks for your help. I think I've decided which four to take--and which two I'll read first.


Jeanette Levellie said...

Wow. You must be a fast reader, Andy. And why did you ask for our help when you'd already decided? Oh, I know, it was one of those token, "What do you think of this idea?" when you've already made up your mind. Ahahaaaaaa!

I decided on a Nook for my eReader, which is the only item on my Christmas list. I'm glad you agree.

Andy Scheer said...

As I described those books, I weighed the prose pros and cons. When I began writing the piece I had six options before me. But after I'd finished writing, I had three. And until Wednesday morning, those choices remain tentative.

Diana said...

Currently I am re reading an Inspector Monk title; A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry. Enjoying it as much as I did the first time. Like my Kindle better than the nooks I have handled. And now they have Kindle Fire in color :-) But I too read by paper more often then not and often from my own shelves. So what would I pack? Always one mystery and one nonfiction and then whatever devotional I am using at the time. And then a 2nd mystery just in case of a layover.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Ah, Diana, you are a girl after my heart--we're eternal mystery buffs!

Rick Barry said...

When I take a road trip, I always drop by the library first to check out a few books on CD, or even on a Playaway MP3 player (supply your own headphones and AAA battery). This weekend I had to drive from Indy to St. Louis and back, so I listed to David Morrell's The Spy Who Came for Christmas. Good story!

Warning: listening to a really good book while driving can make you miss an exit. That's happened to me twice now.

Diana said...

Rick, sounds like a good read to put on my list. I missed an exit and ran out of gas driving from South Dakota to PA listening to a book on CD from Cracker Barrel' s awesome supply- what is great about them, drop off the book at your destinations arrival and pick up a dif one for the return trip.

Andy Scheer said...

I plan to stop by my local library tomorrow afternoon and get some books on CD--probably one or two nautical tales by Patrick O'Brian if those are available. There's lots of territory in Colorado and Kansas, as well as rural Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, where I don't have to worry about missing exits.

The one electronic gadget I also always bring is a dedicated MP3 player called a GoBible--Alexander Scourby reading the entire Bible.