Summer's half over, but it's not too late to plan a trip, especially if you like to travel in the fall--the best time as far as I'm concerned. And it's never too late to obsess about the travel triumvirate of anxieties--packing, reading material and getting sick. Packing clothes is simple: two pairs of black pants, quick-dry undies, a couple of T-shirts, a lightweight wool shawl, two pairs of shoes. Done. But packing books, especially now that we all want to take only carry-on? Anxiety time. What is needed is smallish-print, many-paged, paperbacks--dense, but good. No quick page-turners; in other words, classics, and DK Publishing has just the thing for making those decisions--The Rough Guide to Classic Novels by Simon Mason (Rough Guides, $12.99 trade paper, 9781843535164/1843535165, June 2008). Not only will you be able to find the perfect books for any trip, you'll also discover classics you probably have never heard of, like The Maias by Eça de Queirós:
"The idle, opulent world of Lisbon high society in the late nineteenth century provides [his] greatest novel with its setting. Its true subject, however, is love in a variety of melancholy forms: frivolous affairs, awkward liaisons, demeaning compromises, unattainable ideals and black despair."
Perfect--a book with atmosphere and intrigue, by an author whose prose is "magnificently evocative." Mason also tells you which translation he recommends, excerpts a provocative sentence or two and suggests what to read next. The titles and subjects are diverse, and there is room at the end to list books you think Mason should have included (My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk); in fact, this Rough Guide itself is a good diversion on a long flight, especially for title anagrams and the alphabet game, as noted here earlier this year.
As for getting sick (or staying well--let's be positive), The Adventurous Traveler's Guide to Health by Christopher Sandford, M.D. (University of Washington Press, $14.95 trade paper, 9780295988085/0295988088, May 31, 2008) is just the ticket. It covers everything the average hypochondriac would ask. (Japanese encephalitis? Check. Candiru fish invasion? Check.) But more important, he presents clear, concise information for all types of travelers, from what kind of shots to get to broad advice like, "Generally speaking, your experiences will be interesting in inverse proportion to the amount of money you spend." (Note that he said "interesting," not necessarily comfortable.) Common sense laced with humor pervades the book. While observing that road traffic accidents are much more widespread in developing areas and some parts of Europe, he makes the point that only 1 in 100,000 international travelers dies abroad, and that risk can be cut by wearing seat belts, staying off roads at night, not riding mopeds or motorbikes, not being macho and looking both ways. More exotically, the danger of being eaten by a lion can be avoided by staying in the van, just like the guide does. "You are food, you are prey, and you will not have time to explain your affinity for threatened species before . . . you become a snack."
Each chapter begins with a section called "The Bottom Line" and ends with Q and A's. In addition to the wealth of medical information Sanford provides, he also has good tips for a good trip: "Do not wait until you are at the mountaintop, or the temple, or the waterfall, before you are open to have your touristic epiphany. Tourism is not geographically determined; it is determined by your attitude." Don't complain. Keep a journal. And remember, most people are sane; most people are honest; most people are nice. Words for life, not just a vacation.--Marilyn Dahl