The World’s Great Nomads

Anna Quindlen, in a beautiful excerpt from How Reading Changed My Life:

Perhaps it is true that at base we readers are dissatisfied people, yearning to be elsewhere, to live vicariously through words in a way we cannot live directly through life. Perhaps we are the world’s great nomads, if only in our minds. […] This is what I like about traveling: the time on airplanes spent reading, solitary, happy. It turns out that when my younger self thought of taking wing, she wanted only to let her spirit soar. Books are the plane, the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.

Aside: A couple of years ago, I decided that whenever I undertook a plane journey that is more than 3 hours long, I would take a book with me, preferrably one of the Classics which I have wanted to read but have not had the time. Over the last few plane trips, I have read some fine books in airplanes – among them The Good Earth, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird. But, reading in a plane isn’t half as much fun as reading in a train. For one thing, there is more leg-room and you may even have a sleeping berth at times. Besides, many more stories are unfolding outside the window and they seem to change the story in the book, or at least they change the way in which I perceive it. I have loved trains since as far back as I can remember. Probably, this has something to do with my uncle carrying me along to watch trains when I was less than two years old. Train journeys are rare in the US, but in India they are quite frequent and extremely enjoyable. I like the experience of reading as the train speeds along, oscillating a little bit from side to side, making rythmic sounds as the rails change beneath the wheels and loud groans as the carriage passes over a bridge. Some of my earliest travel memories are of scurrying after my father to buy a comic from a bookseller’s hand-drawn cart, before the train roared into the station and it was time to board.

4 thoughts on “The World’s Great Nomads”

  1. That Anna Quindlen book is fantastic. It was wonderful to read a published author talking about being drawn to all types of different books and not being a book snob. Great stuff.

  2. “Perhaps we are the world’s great nomads, if only in our minds…” Evokes a theme from Out of Africa when Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen talks about being a “mental traveler.”

  3. Carl: Yes, I am definitely going to look at this book. The excerpt I quoted was found in a book of essays on reading, called A Passion for Books. Recently, I blogged about another essay from this book.

    Crumpet&Bear: I’m ashamed to admit that I used to think of Out of Africa as that famous Meryl Streep film which I had to see sometime. I didn’t know it was a book. They have the first line of the book on the Amazon page, and it reminds me of something Alexander McCall Smith said in an interview recently. If you get a chance to read any of the Ladies Detective Agency books, you’ll find the first line very familiar. It is a tribute to the beginning of Out of Africa. At the time I heard it, I thought he was referring to voiceover narration from the film, but it turns out that he was talking about Dinesen’s book. This will be high on my list of must-reads.

  4. Just looked up that book, A Passion for Books, on Amazon and it looks fantastic, thanks for the recommendation. I will be picking this one up (as if I need more books!) 🙂

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