Off to Europe Again, and What Books I’m Packing

We’re off to continental Europe again on Monday. This isn’t a major trip like last summer’s; it’s just a one-week break to take advantage of my husband presenting a paper at a landscape ecology conference in Ghent, Belgium. Though we’ve been to Ghent before, it’s a lovely town, so in between keeping up with a normal editing workload I’ll enjoy being a flâneuse on the streets and seeing the few sights we missed last time. Afterwards we head to Amsterdam for several days; it’ll be my first time there and I’m excited to take it all in.

Coincidentally, I recently read Bernard MacLaverty’s Midwinter Break for a BookBrowse review. It’s about a retired couple, Stella and Gerry, facing up to past trauma and present incompatibility during a short vacation in Amsterdam. They visit a number of the city’s most famous tourist destinations: from the art treasures of the Rijksmuseum to a drink taken in the dubious red light district. It was fun to take a virtual tour with them. We’ll see how much of our itinerary overlaps with theirs – the Anne Frank House, certainly; maybe I should also stop by the Begijnhof since it means so much to Stella.


When possible I like to do some geographically appropriate reading, so I’ve saved up a couple of Dutch-themed novels to take along on the trip:

  • The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker [published as Ten White Geese in the USA]: By a Dutch novelist, with a plot split between Amsterdam and rural Wales.
  • Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach: Set in 17th-century Amsterdam and with an art theme (there are some full-color plates of works by Dutch masters); this was recommended by Annie Spence.

I’m mostly focusing on short fiction in September – short stories, novellas, and novels that are perhaps too long to technically be called novellas but still significantly under 200 pages – so may also pack the following:

  • Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes: I don’t know much about it (adultery + film?) but it’s one of just a few of his books I haven’t read yet.
  • Dangling Man by Saul Bellow: I recently read The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale by James Atlas, about becoming a biographer of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow. It’s stellar, quite possibly my book of the year, and whetted my appetite to try some Bellow. I imagine The Adventures of Augie March would be the better place to start, but I picked this up in Oxfam Books the other day.
  • Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita is the only Nabokov I’ve read thus far; I liked the sound of this comic novel set on a college campus.

I also have to decide whether to take any of the books I currently have on the go, including my Classic (Madame Bovary) and Doorstopper (The Nix) for the month. Luckily we’re going by train, so space and weight limitations aren’t really an issue, though it would probably be prudent not to pack too many print books. I’ll probably at least take the Etgar Keret short stories: they’re flash fictions perfect for reading two or three at a time in a short sitting.

At any rate, I’ll be continuing my two e-books in progress: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, about the crazy world of wine obsessives and would-be top sommeliers; and Honeydew, short stories by Edith Pearlman. If I get bored, my Kindle has another 330 titles to choose from. (Isn’t it amazing? – a nearly weightless library!)


We’re back late on the 18th; I’ll be scheduling a couple of posts for while we’re away.

Happy reading!

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16 thoughts on “Off to Europe Again, and What Books I’m Packing

  1. Tulip Fever sounds good, and I love the cover of The Detour. I’m also curious about “The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God”… sounds funny.
    Have a great trip!!

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    1. I’ve read a few novels set around that time period in Amsterdam and featuring art in some way (Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Miniaturist, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos), so it’ll be interesting to see how this one slots in.

      I’ve read two novels by Bakker: one I loved, one I didn’t like so much. So again, we’ll see how The Detour fits into that picture!

      The title story of the Keret collection is so good. The ones I’ve read so far are wry and imaginative.

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  2. “though it would probably be prudent not to pack too many print books” Love this! And love that you are obviously going to completely overlook your observation now that you’ve said/written it out. Hee. I’ve never read another Nabokov and this one sounds like fun. I’ve also never read a Saul Bellow, which was mentioned in a recent NYTBR podcast (in relation to another book, I think and now I feel like I “should”. Have you read other May Sarton diaries? They have been very important to me over the years. It *is* extra-hard to pack books when travelling when one’s everyday stack is so unwieldly. Good luck with your packing!

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    1. I will probably leave most of that print stack at home, apart from the Bythell book-selling memoir — I want to get through it by pub. date (28th) and it’s not as quick a read as expected. And I’ve stuck the Barnes back on the shelf for now. So that leaves two for the Belgium leg and two for the Amsterdam leg, plus Kindle reading as needed!

      I am a huge fan of May Sarton’s nonfiction. (I have a feeling we’ve chatted about it before, though probably some time ago now.) This is the seventh of her journals I’ve read. I started with Journal of a Solitude in 2013-14 and it’s still my favourite. I’ve also read her collected poems, but all at once via a NetGalley download, which was certainly not the ideal way to do it. I’m less enamored of her novels, of which I’ve read three. There are another couple on my Kindle but I’m not rushing to them. (Do you know if there are any biographies besides the 1990s Peters one?)

      Thank you for going through a backlog of my posts. You always add such insightful comments and follow-up questions. Bravo!

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