The Last Word : Travel companions
The Wilson duo is about to take a cross-country journey by car. Yes, I know that gas prices are through the roof, but hey, sometimes you just have to flaunt conventional wisdom. We have discussed ad nauseam the various routes available to get us from point A, being home, to Point B, being, we hope, somewhere in Colorado. I say we're just going to tape a picture of the Edgartown lighthouse on the front of our car and when we get to a place where someone asks, "What's that?" we'll stay. The idea is to see the country, or as much of it as we can in 14 days, and to enjoy being away. Being someplace we haven't been before. A road trip for middle-aged boomers.
The chief question now that all the planning and much of the packing is done, is what do we take for reading materials? I had a conversation with one of the friends who's staying in our house while we're gone. He told me that his partner has been laying up reading material for their stay on the Vineyard since May. Now, if this friend were a shark, we'd say that his reading appetite is voracious, meaning endless and not very discriminating. He reads a book a day (note, he is retired). I'm just guessing here, but I think that what he's putting together is a collection of readable books meant to be enjoyed while sitting on the deck, iced tea close at hand, while all the others staying in the house are out doing their thing. A readable book - which sounds a bit redundant - is a book you don't have to sit in a study carrel to focus on. It is a book that grabs your attention and entertains you with its contents, yet is easily put down in favor of friendly conversation with the neighbor who asks, "Who the heck are you and why are you on the Wilsons' deck?" It isn't a book that suffers interruption with churlishness. It doesn't make you feel inattentive if you've lost the thread of the narrative because the author has gone on some existential toot. It's just a fun book. Now, I'm not talking easy-readers, or mass-market romances, but a book that forgives you for reading it in small doses because the birds on the feeder are distracting with their noisy spats, or cocktails are being served.
Being deeply afraid of being without something to read in the event this road trip takes longer than we think - how many books do I take? Assuming that somewhere in Iowa the scenery is going to be relatively predictable for long stretches, I can probably pack something with teeth. Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's classic, "The Leopard," or a Wallace Stegner. It also occurs to me that a journey story is just about right for someone on a journey. There are so many to choose from, perhaps "The Wizard of Oz" - in the original dark version. Journey stories always have the protagonist evolve or come to some self-realization by the end and I'm not sure I have any intention of that while on vacation.
I could arrange reading by region: "Tom Sawyer," "In Cold Blood," "My Antonia," "All the Pretty Horses." Then there are audiotapes. We could learn something as we ride along the great American interstate system. Get David McCullough's "1776" or "John Adams," listen to our local Pulitzer Prize winner read aloud to us. But that might make me long for my New England home. Better find literature that speaks of the west. Zane Grey. Louis L'amour.
A book by a travel writer might be just the ticket. Bill Bryson is always good for an amusing companion. His "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America" is a rather uncomplimentary expatriate's view of the mid-west. He rambles through Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, finding little to recommend the region, and as at least part of our trip will move through those states that might be appropriate reading material. Being officially irreverent, no matter what his topic, I'm taking a lot of what he says in this book with a grain of salt. Or maybe it's in vain to hope that in the almost 20 years since Bryson penned his travelogue, things have improved.
One brilliant thought did occur to me. I could take one book. And when I'm done with that one, buy another. My mood and my attention span may be entirely different mid-trip than in anticipation of it. So, armed with Bryson and with the compendium, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die," the US and Canada version, plus two audio-books, we should be okay for the first thousand miles.
Susan Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Oak Bluffs. Visit her web site at susanwilsonwrites.com.