In the airport in Barcelona, Spain, there are a series of kiosks where men with giant tubes of Saran Wrap will mummify your luggage for the bargain price of about 5 euros. The contraptions they use look, from a distance, like the kind of festive machines you would buy lottery tickets from. Up close, they are monster cellophane wheels, backed by pink and yellow signs, fronted by long line ups of insane people who think that it’s somehow cool and not hazardously wasteful to use as much plastic as possible when travelling.
Ironically, this fantastic plastic machine is one of the many reasons I like travelling. I like the idea that the world is full of stuff that’s more interesting than those things I have immediate access to at home. I like going to places to see these things, then I like to come home and comment on them from afar. That’s what makes me a tourist.
The other thing I like about travel is the luxury of having nothing to do but travel — by which I mean that sitting on an airplane or train (not car though) is one of the few places I don’t feel like I have to do anything else but let my body be hurtled at amazing speed over a vast span of land and or water. I get all my best cultural consumption done in these situations.
As a rule, I bring at least three different types of literary works when I’m travelling, especially by plane. I take a magazine to read during pre-boarding and standing in line at customs (frequently The New Yorker — which is consistently interesting), a book (non-fiction), typically one I’ve been reading for months and I’m hoping to finish but likely won’t, and, the mainstay, at least two audiobooks or podcasts. While the magazine and book are typically not queer (this time it was Emily Schultz’s Heaven is Small, which is AMAZING), the audiobooks and podcasts, for some reason, are consistently gay. Which is to say that I like to bring a couple gays with me on the plane, or at least their voices.
My favourite audiobooks are from David Sedaris. He has a kind of strange, somewhat squeaky, geeky-boy type voice that takes a bit of getting used to, only, I think, because it doesn’t sound like the kind of mellow tone we’re used to hearing on the airwaves (for some reason he sounds like a drama teacher to me). There are a number of books by Sedaris available for purchase, most conveniently on iTunes, including his most recent book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which is around $20. What I took with me to Spain is a reading Sedaris did at the University of Minnesota Bookstore. This free download is just as funny as the book (it includes readings from the book) and you get to listen to Sedaris riff with the audience a bit afterwards (although, you know, you don’t get to ask Sedaris a question yourself which is a bit of a downer once you get into the whole being-at-the-reading feeling).
Also funny is ex-Canadian homo David Rakoff, whose book, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, is also available for purchase at the bargain price of $15. For four hours, Rakoff takes you through his “been there, done all this stuff, thought about it” life. Rakoff is very familiar to those who have frequented the (also free) halls of National Public Radio’s This American Life, which you can download for about a buck an episode (or subscribe to as a podcast for free). In fact, while you’re there, download the episode titled “81 words,” which talks about the history of the entry on “sexual deviations” in the American Psychiatric Association official manual. It’s probably the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard on the radio.
Whilst listening to Sedaris on the plane (and laughing, loudly, much to the chagrin of my fellow passengers whose little Air Canada free TVs weren’t working), I thought of a recent conversation I had with a director/writer (who shall remain nameless) who said that the problem with literary festivals is that writers are such bad performers of their own work. I don’t think, as big a fan as I am of these audiobooks, I could disagree with this statement more. I think the problem with lit fests, at times, is that there is something about big open parks that is very non-conducive to book reading. Reading great works is such an intimate, private, thing and sometimes I think it’s a thing that’s hard to place in such public arenas (not all the time, but sometimes). So perhaps this is the way to tour the world as writers, packed into audio files, speaking directly into the ears of happy readers as the cruise the skies on their way to or back from adventure.