The One Book (or Two) to Take on a Two-Week Trip

…That is the question. For the last two weeks of the year I’ll be traveling throughout Sri Lanka. This means Negombo’s sleepy beaches, Colombo’s urban hubbub, Hatton’s mountains, and the interior hill valley of Dambulla. Also Trincomalee’s sleepy beaches.


Because I have an irrational fear of being without a book, I tend to overpack. But not this time. This time I’m going to bring exactly the right amount of books. And hopefully the right books, too.

I should mention my restrictions. I haven’t checked a bag at an airport in almost seven years; I don’t plan on starting now. So it’s a duffel bag with space for a maximum of two thick nonfiction books. (Why nonfiction? I’ve found I absorb far too much of the world of the novel when I travel, and not enough of the actual world around me.)

Here’s my shortlist:

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max

Pro: This has been on my t0-read pile all year, even more so after the chorus of hosannas from DFW fans and literary critics.
Con: It’s only 300 pages, and I’ve been told it reads briskly. There’s nothing worse than burning through your vacation reads too quickly.

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt 

Pro: Ideas! Life! Philosophy! A perfect compendium for a holiday “off the grid,” as it were. This one’s also on the slim side page-wise, but I have to assume it’s dense enough for a fortnight of reading.
Con: This is the opposite of the traditional beach read.

The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka & the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers by Gordon Weiss

Pro: Just published in the U.S. by the wonderful Bellevue Literary Press, this is one of the few nonfiction accounts of the 25-year civil war between the Hindu Tamil minority and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority. (Fingers crossed the New Yorker‘s John Lee Anderson is working on one too.)
Con: Would you want to read about human rights atrocities committed in the very town you’re staying in for the first time?

The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham

Pro: Nick Harkaway’s endorsement in his “Year in Reading” column for The Millions was very selling: “Basically indispensable if you consider yourself an active and engaged citizen of a democratic nation. Cogent, elegant, clear, and simple – and short, which is a wonder – it’s absolutely required reading. Trust me: just pick it up and look at a little bit. Then tell me you don’t care about what he’s saying. (You won’t. You’ll buy the book and follow his lucid discussion to the end.)”
Con: Could be a bit dry.

All suggestions welcome! What would you bring on  a long trip?


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