Memorable books can make memorable places even more memorable


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Books take us places. So do planes, trains and automobiles. And when they all combine — the book, the mode of transportation, the destination — the experience can be sublime. Today, more readers share their literary vacation memories.

Melanie Snyder of Vienna, Va., once traveled alone through France to a tiny village in the Alps, a journey that required several changes to increasingly smaller trains. She spent the ride bent over a copy of Proust.

“Across from me were three generations of a French family,” Melanie wrote. “The grandmother noticed my book and commented how impressed she was as it was ‘trés difficile.’ “

Melanie replied in shaky French that she was reading it in English. The two passed the time discussing Melanie’s trip.

“When the train reached the next station, I gathered my things and disembarked and prepared to walk to the end of the platform to find my next train,” she wrote. “The woman took my arm and pushed me into the adjacent train which began to pull out almost immediately.”

It was indeed the correct train, which Melanie would have missed if she’d tarried even a moment longer.

“It took me a couple more years to finish all three volumes of [“Remembrance of Things Past”] but I thought of that woman and that train journey on every page,” Melanie wrote.

Books can help us make connections. In 1987, Linda Keenan brought Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” with her on vacation to Cinque Terre in Italy.

“Sitting in a rented beach chair, I settled down to read the book,” wrote Linda, of Silver Spring. “I glanced over at the woman in the next chair over. ‘Signora,’ I said, and held up my book. She smiled and held up her: ‘Il nome della rosa.’ “

For the District’s Sharlene Kranz, the right book can complement the vacation. “You started [James Clavell’s] ‘Shogun’ on the plane to Japan, read it at night while visiting temples and gardens and palaces of that era during the day, and finished it on the plane home,” she wrote. “Perfect.”

Lynn Hay of Devon, Pa., is picky about the books she reads on holiday, craving ones that enhance the break.

“My most recent vacation was largely spent on the wraparound porch on my in-laws’ home on an island off the Maine coast,” wrote Lynne. “The sounds, scents and scenery add tremendously to the entire reading experience.”

Madeline Miller’s “Circe” — Greek myths seen through the eyes of the sea witch who entranced Odysseus — fit the bill perfectly. That book set Lynne on her own odyssey, exploring a group of Trojan War novels dealing with key women, including “Daughters of Sparta” by Claire Heywood spirit Pat Barker’s “The Silence of the Girls.”

Wrote Lynne: “Reading about the Trojan War while hearing the roaring surf in front of me was pretty cool.”

Not every book has to match its setting. Marshall Collins of Point, Tex., was pleasantly enthralled several years ago with a book he read in Hawaii: “Larry: The Stooge in the Middle.”

Wrote Marshall: “It was Larry Fine’s autobiography, where he told stories of his years with the Three Stooges. At the time it was written, the other comics had passed on, and he was living in a nursing home. Nothing gripping or suspenseful; no Eastern European spies or romantic engagements. But an easy single-day read while sitting in a chair on the rocky black sand near Kona on the big island where beachgoers were few.”

For Denver’s DJ Janik, the beach was on St. John in the US Virgin Islands, where he devoured Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park.” Wrote DJ: “At an exciting part, where a massive dinosaur is roaring, I looked up from my beach towel to see emerging from the jungle growth a huge iguana — five- or six-foot-long, with tail. I like to think the beach towel was steam from drying myself off earlier.”

From shore to ship: Richard Leverone of Arlington once took PG Wodehouse’s “Right Ho, Jeeves” with him on a cruise. “I was reading it in a public room on the ship and laughing so hard that I embarrassed my wife, who banished me to our cabin,” Richard wrote. “There is no better choice for a vacation than a PG Wodehouse book.”

A ship of a different sort: Bob Sweeny’s best reading experience was the summer he was 17 or 18 and read Nicholas Monsarrat’s “The Cruel Sea,” set on a destroyer on convoy duty in the frigid North Atlantic during World War II. “As the action got vivid, I had to get a blanket to cover me!” wrote Bob, of Staunton, Va.

And now for some counterprogramming from Linda Krauss of Silver Spring: She read Erich Segal’s “Love Story” from start to finish on the flight home from the Caribbean honeymoon.

“How naive could I have been?” Linda wrote. “Still honeymooning after 52 years — and never have to say ‘I’m sorry.’ “



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