17 July, 2013

How to pick a book for a vacation read?

While reading is how I often take off mentally for a vacation (“In books I have traveled, not only to
other worlds, but into my own.” ― Anna Quindlen), picking books to pack for a real vacation is an elaborate ritual that I undertake with a very scientific approach and with the Survivor - Eye of the Tiger playing in the background.  (And yes, books, not book, because I go into panic mode imagining a situation where I'm on a break and have run out of reading material - in such situations I grab the hotel's menu card - anything and start reading that. Do not laugh for this is a serious medical condition. There is even a term for it - abibliophobia!)

So as the day when we set off for a much awaited vacay started drawing near, I started fantasizing. Conjuring up images of a quaint little inn in the middle of nowhere - surrounded by beauty that cannot even be taken in at once - breathing in the sweet air typical of the mountains - the husband quiet - and I, reading. Reading without worrying about the dinner that I have not yet started making - reading without worrying about an early morning the next day.

So how do I make the all-important decision of which book to take for the upcoming holiday in the hills (okay I may be playing down our destination a bit here, but I don't want to talk about it till we get there; I'm afraid i'll jinx it.) I've been agonizing over what books (book, maintains the husband) to take with me, more than over clothes - and these are my criteria:

1. Delayed gratification factor - Don't ask me how I do it, but the only way I sometimes manage to get through the drudgery of everyday monotony, is by stashing away a book that I would love to devour immediately, but don't. The thought of carrying around an unread book and delaying the gratification I can get out of it, literally turns me on! So if i want to start my holiday on the right note, I'll pick up this temptation of a book that I've been resisting for some time. The husband often ends up mistaking the reason for the anticipation on my face, the glint in my eyes and that starts his vacation on a good note too. It's a win-win situation.

2. Plot factor - There are books that race on without brakes, hard-core page-turners that don't let me come up for air and there are books that meander along gently, evocatively, letting me savour them as their plot unfold along with the sinous curves of the mountains we'll be climbing. I prefer the former lot to jump-start my monotonous schedule, finishing them overnight.
But for a vacation, I prefer to carry books that don't make me miss the beauty around because I'm reading frantically to reach the plot's climax. The book's plot should not overshadow the purpose of the vacation. I would not want to go visit monasteries meeting gentle monks while inwardly crying for the characters in my book.

3. Beauty factor - The stories have got to be beautiful. While they should not overshadow the memories of our holiday, they should definitely work towards accentuating them. Vacation memories tinted with a beautiful story or character I stumble upon are always a bonanza. I always associate each vacations or any time occasion with the book(s) I would have been reading at the time. Memories of the last Kerala visit before I got married are peppered with fond recollections of my relatives' pampering with intermittent flashbacks from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series and Lisbeth Salander's photographic memory. I can't think of Naukuchiatal without remembering Lenny's poignant story from Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice Candy Man. The stories should be beautiful, yes.

4. Format factor - Unless they start manufacturing Kindles that smell like books, I would prefer reading from the real thing made of papyrus. The sound of a book's spine cracking when I open it, sends a shiver of excitement coupled with pure anticipation down my spine. Now which e-book can give me that? Also, I'm a messy reader who loves to read on the pot, while eating, during my cooking sprees - who can risk carrying a fancy schmancy e-thingie to all these places?

Keeping all these factors in mind and quite unmindful of them, here's how I finally shortlisted a couple of books - it was too late to order them on Flipkart to get them delivered before we left and my tight work-home schedule left me with no time to visit a bookshop. So I made the husband visit his office library and made him read out book titles randomly, while I reviewed them online. Funny eh? No sir! I've shortlisted two books - Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People and David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes.

The husband is happy to see me so kicked about the trip. Don't go telling him the real reason, you!