I’m at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis this weekend. (Pre-registration is closed, but there are still at-the-door memberships available, if anyone wants to spend the weekend hanging out with me and Steve Brust and Sarah Monette and Catherynne Valente and Lois Bujold and Pat Wrede etc…) I’m going on my favourite system of transport, the train. You may not be aware that North America has an excellent selection of comfortable and economical trains—they’re not fast, and they don’t really co-ordinate terribly well as a system, but they’re otherwise wonderful. I went to Flagstaff on the train in 2004 and to Denver last summer. Anyway, on the train, I’ll have plenty of time to read, but everything I read I’m going to have to take with me. Now this isn’t entirely true, as Minneapolis has excellent science fiction bookshops, and even New York, where I’m calling on the way home, has Borders. But as far as re-reading for you goes, I have to decide now what I’m going to want to read over the next twelve days.
There are various considerations. Firstly, weight. No hardcovers! When is Anathem due out in paperback? Seriously, it’s been ages, I’ve read it twice, it would be ideal for this trip, and what do I have? A brick that weighs half a ton.
Secondly, presentability. I’m going to be reading these in public. Geoff Ryman’s absolutely marvelous novel Lust has a suggestively arranged cucumber and two tomatoes on the cover, and when I bought it I had to put something else on top of it as I stood in line. Then the last time I was reading it, on the metro, I’d forgotten about the cover but this guy gave me a very odd smile. I don’t want that to happen on a train. Similarly, I own the 1938 edition of Mary Renault’s Purposes of Love, the one that makes it look like a nurse romance. I mean it is a nurse romance, but not the kind of nurse romance that cover makes it look like. (People must have been very surprised…)
On presentability, I’ve always thought the ideal thing to read in the doctor’s waiting room is Jane Austen. This is partly because she writes the kind of things that can be absorbing anyway, and partly because it makes doctors take you more seriously.
The real question is of course, knowing what I’m going to feel like reading ahead of time. I’m pretty good at figuring out what I want to read right now. I know people who suffer from “reader’s block,” which never strikes me for longer than five minutes—except that awful time when I didn’t have The Darkest Road (Roc) and I’d finished the other two and I had to spend half a Saturday and all of a Sunday in a state similar to being staked out on a hornet’s nest. Just be glad you weren’t there, that’s all I’m saying.
Knowing what I want to read now, doesn’t help with what I’ll want to read the day after tomorrow, on a train leaving Chicago. At home, I have vast acres of choice, and lots of bookshops and libraries in case I get desperate. Also, there are distractions. There are books I like to read all in one bite, and books I like to nibble on while doing other things. For a trip, I need everything to be the kind of book I want to sit down and concentrate on. What often works on trips is really good nonfiction. The rhythm of non-fiction seems to suit travel. I should have done is saved Backroom Boys (Faber and Faber) for now. With fiction, the ideal thing is something I’ve read once and liked but don’t remember all that well, neither something totally familiar nor something new that might turn out to be awful.
The worst problem of all is knowing how many books to take. I’m not going to be reading much in the actual con. But there are also going to be five train days, in which I’ll be doing absolutely nothing but reading or looking out of the window—well, and I am taking my Eee, which also gives me the option of writing about what I’m reading, or playing Sudoku. Five train days means at least ten books of average length, but what is average length? I read the whole Foreigner (Daw) sequence on the way to Denver.
And even worse, I’m going to be having this problem again, because soon after I come back I’m going to be flying to Britain for a few weeks.
I have a big pile of books and a few clothes. I’ll let you know how it goes.