Making Plans (and Book Lists) for America

On Tuesday we leave for two weeks in America. It’s nearly a year and a half since our last trip – much too long – so we’ll be cramming in lots of visits with friends and family and doing a fair bit of driving around the Mid-Atlantic states. I’m giving myself the whole time off, which means I’ve been working flat out for the past two weeks to get everything done (including my U.K. and U.S. taxes). I’m nearly there: at the 11-day countdown I still had 12 books I wanted to finish and 12 reviews to write; now I’m down to five books, only one of which might be considered essential, and all the reviews are ready to submit/schedule. What with the holiday weekend underway, it should all be manageable.

I’m a compulsive list maker in general, but especially when it comes to preparing for a trip. I’ve kept adding to lists entitled “Pack for America,” “Do in America,” “Buy in America,” and “Bring back from America.” But the more fun lists to make are book-related ones: what paper books should I take to read on the plane? Which of the 315 books on my Kindle ought I to prioritize over the next two weeks? Which exclusively American books should I borrow from the public library? What secondhand books will I try to find? And which of the books in the dozens of boxes in the closet of my old bedroom will I fit in my suitcase for the trip back?

I liked the sound of Laila’s habit of taking an Anne Tyler novel on every flight. That’s just the kind of cozy reading I want, especially as I head back to Maryland – not far at all from Tyler’s home turf of Baltimore. I browsed the blurbs on a few of her paperbacks I have lying around and chose Back When We Were Grownups to be my fifth Tyler and one of my airplane reads.

I’m also tempted by Min Kym’s Gone, a memoir by a violin virtuoso about having her Stradivarius stolen. I picked up a proof copy in a 3-for-£1 charity sale a couple of weeks ago. And then I can’t resist the aptness of Jonathan Miles’s Dear American Airlines (even though we’re actually flying on Virgin). I’ll start one or more of these before we go, just to make sure they ‘take’.

I almost certainly won’t need three print books for the trip, particularly if I take advantage of the in-flight entertainment. We only ever seem to watch films while we’re in America or en route there, so between the two legs I’ll at least try to get to La La Land and The Light between Oceans; I’m also considering Nocturnal Animals, Silence, and the live-action Beauty and the Beast – anyone seen these?

However, I’ll also keep my Kindle to hand, as I find it easier to pick up and put down on multi-part journeys like ours to the airport (train ride + coach ride). Some of the books on my Kindle priority list are: The Day that Went Missing by Richard Beard, Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta (out in August), The Power by Naomi Alderman, Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor, The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy, See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt, You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann … and the list continues, but I’ll stop there.

My book shopping list is an ongoing one, as the many cross-outs and additions on this sheet show. Finding specific books at my beloved Wonder Book can be a challenge, so I usually just keep in mind the names of authors I’d like to read more by. This time that might include Arnold Bennett, Geoff Dyer, Elizabeth Hay, Bernd Heinrich, W. Somerset Maugham, Haruki Murakami and Kathleen Norris. In addition to the couple of secondhand bookstores we always hit, I hope to visit a few new-to-me ones on stays with friends in Virginia.

As for those poor books sat in boxes in the closet, I have plans to unearth novels by Anita Brookner, Mohsin Hamid, Kent Haruf, Penelope Lively, Howard Norman and Philip Roth – for reading while I’m there and/or bringing back with me. I’m also contemplating borrowing my dad’s omnibus edition of the John Updike “Rabbit” novels. From my nonfiction hoard, I fancy an Alexandra Fuller memoir, D.H. Lawrence’s travel books and more of May Sarton’s journals. If only it weren’t for luggage weight limits!


On Monday I’ll publish my intercontinental Library Checkout, on Tuesday I have a few June releases to recommend, and then I’m scheduling a handful of posts for while I’m away – a couple reviews I happen to have ready, plus some other lightweight stuff. Alas, I read no doorstoppers in May, but I have a list (of course) of potential ones for June, so will attempt to resurrect that monthly column.

Though I may be slow to respond to comments and read your blogs while I’m away, I will do my best and hope to catch up soon after I’m back.

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18 thoughts on “Making Plans (and Book Lists) for America

  1. You probably know how I feel about The Fact of a Body, The Power and Reservoir 13—all must-reads, and ones I’d definitely recommend prioritising! See What I Have Done is also excellent. If you finish Gone on your travels, I’d love to know what you think; it’s quite appealing. Have a lovely relaxing time, and say hi to Virginia for me 🙂

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    1. Will do — maybe even personally, in your name, if I manage to visit your old bookshop! 😉 It’s definitely thanks at least in part to your enthusiasm that those books are high on my mental list of priorities. I hope I could get engrossed in one or more of them; that would help the long hours of travel pass.

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  2. I’m a big List Maker too (some of those titles look very familiar!), and I’m currently on an extended holiday in America. I also spent ages thinking about what ‘paper’ books to pack, and also what to choose from my kindle once I got settled.
    I don’t know why, but I often end up reading very ‘English’ books when away from home. It’s not that I get homesick or anything!
    Have a wonderful trip!

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    1. Ooh, I hope you’re having a lovely time! What have you seen and done? Have you also visited your daughter in Canada?

      I can see how reading books about England while you’re away from it would be a fun contrast.

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      1. Yep, visited our daughter. Then we did something we’ve wanted to do for ages – did a road trip from Toronto to Florida! Took a week over it and had a great time (visited Monticello and Charleston the way).
        Currently relaxing in the Florida sunshine.

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    2. What a wonderful trip! I’ve never been to Monticello, and would like to visit Charleston, too. Really my husband and I need to do a road trip of the southern states at some point.

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    1. We’re traveling for a bit under half the trip and staying with family for the rest. On previous trips we’ve borrowed public library stacks of 10-15 books and gotten through a good number of them, but that would just be silly this time, especially when I’ve got so many Kindle books and so many of my own paper books to get through!

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  3. Have a wonderful time! The one that sings out from your Kindle list for me is Reservoir 13, quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. I also enjoyed the Kehlmann which will take you no time at all to read. I hope you manage to track down a copy of Elizabeth’s Hay’s Late Nights on Air but I think I may have gone on about that to you already!

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  4. As ever, I seem not to have had any of the books you talk about on my radar (apart from Somerset Maugham). However, three of my friends have seen La La Land. One went to sleep, and the other two hated it in a ho hum sort of way. So let’s see what you think ….. Have a wonderful time.

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  5. Thanks for much for the Anne Tyler-related shout-out! I’m delighted to be associated with her in any way, ha ha!

    You have so many books and authors on your lists that appeal to me – Brookner, Hamid, Lively! I did read Dear American AIrlines ages ago and remember liking it, but it’s been a while so it’s fuzzy for me! Cork Dork and Elinor Oliphant are on my TBR. Safe travels and have a wonderful trip!

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  6. Wow have fun on your trip! You’ve got some great books queued up too! I really want to read Cork Dork and Mrs. Fletcher. I’m looking forward to hearing about your time in the States. Safe travels!

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  7. Loved hearing about all your lists and book choices. Have a wonderful trip, and looking forward to hearing about which book stores you made it to, what books you bought, and which ones you read while on vacation!!

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