All tourists cherish an illusion, of which no amount of experience can ever completely cure them: they imagine that they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading. They see themselves, at the end of a day’s sightseeing or motoring, or while they are sitting in the train, studiously turning over the pages of all the vast and serious works which, at ordinary seasons, they never find time to read. […] But that does not prevent them from taking just as many books the next time they set out on their travels.
Long experience has taught me to reduce in some slight measure the dimensions of my traveling library. But even now I am far too optimistic about my powers of reading while on a journey. Along with the books which I know it is possible to read, I still continue to put in a few impossible volumes in the pious hope that some day, somehow, they will get read. Thick tomes have traveled with me for thousands of kilometers across the face of Europe and have returned with their secrets unviolated.
That was written in Italy in 1924 by Aldous Huxley when he was about my same age, before he published Brave New World, before he moved to California, before he took a fatty hit of LSD while on his deathbed (President John F. Kennedy and C.S. Lewis died on the same day). I know all of this thanks to the Summer 2009 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly on Travel. (Juan is also a fan – no surprise there.) CB was kind enough to bring it over to me during our own bit of traveling through Slovenia. At that time I was accompanied by what Mr. Huxley would likely consider a traveling library of ridiculous dimensions. Half the weight of my suitcase was surely appropriated by the printed page. This, of course, in addition to the thousands of words waiting for my ever-contracting attention span in my ever-expanding email inbox, RSS reader, and “read this now!” desktop folder.
It was a perfect morning in Kyiv to curl up with my Lapham’s Quarterly and morning cup of coffee.
Still, somehow, someway, I have managed to get through a considerable chunk of the to-read shelf of my traveling library. Were it not for Babak who just left me a lengthy tome on the history of Christianity in Europe, I would be out of books by the week’s end. So, what to do? Normally I would look for an English-language bookstore and, once again, despite the dictums of rational behavior, purchase more books than I could possibly read over the next few months. (I once lugged Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day through Greece, Turkey, Spain, and the Netherlands without ever getting past the Stoics.)
But now there is a tempting 21st century alternative to shouldering the burden of gravity plus the printed book, and that is the e-book reader. With just one (nearly patented no less) click, I am able to fill my iPhone with – yet again – more books than I could possibly read. On my Amazon Kindle app for the iPhone I am currently reading Shop Class as Soulcraft. On Stanza (best app ever!) I am just getting started on Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk. Currently I have 13 unread books waiting for me in Stanza and three in on my Kindle app. The ease, weightlessness, and affordability of maintaining the traveler’s cherished illusion of “studiously turning over the pages of all the vast and serious works which, at ordinary seasons, we never find time to read” has never been so manageable.