Chaucer tells us that the Clerk had “at his beddes heed/ Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed/ Of Aristotle and his philosophie” but not whether any of these volumes accompanied him on his pilgrimage to Canterbury. Personally, I bet he slipped a volume into his travelling bag, next to his breviary. As for me, I travel with an unreasonable number of books, because I need pleasure reading, the primary text my research is most engaged with at the moment, and, for the Far Horizons gig, books that might answer any question that I might be asked about anything from Byzantine iconography to the eminently silly novels of Dan Brown. So, for people who like those lists on Facebook, here are the texts I’ll be travelling with this summer:
- Ada, by Vladimir Nabokov, which I began to reread this semester and look forward to spending more time with.
- Le Roman de Troie by Benoit de Ste Maure, because it’s the subject of my next research project and therefore accompanies me everywhere, more as a talisman than because I’ll actually have time to read it or think about it.
- Stephen Runciman, A History of the Crusades.
- Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red and Other Colors.
Loaded onto my laptop, I have several reports made to the Royal Geographical Society in the 1920s, or earlier. These splendid documents have titles like The Island of Roses and her Eleven Sisters, or, The Dodecanese by Michael D. Volonakis. The Royal Geographical Society began in the nineteenth century as a supper club and sponsored expeditions like those of Stanley and Livingstone and Scott of the Antarctic. The prose tends to be wonderfully fragrant: “Thus the sunny Rhodes rose into sight and stood forth over the blue Aegean Sea by the dawn, in the early morning light, and thus also we have in brief the secret of the origin of the island by a submarine upheaval due to a local earthquake…” Setting the style aside, however, the gentlemen who produced these reports always seem to have walked every square inch of every island described.
And I can’t help but imagine that they were impeccably dressed as they did so.