Books for planes and trains…but not automobiles

Jan 30, 2015 | 2 comments |

When this post goes live, I’ll be on my way from the UK to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, via a layover in Toronto. Then it’s back to Canada, before returning to England a week later.

Travel is a constant in my life, mostly for my day job.

With long days, faceless conference rooms and shuttling between airports and hotels, business travel is far from glamorous. But for me it has one special perk.

Flying long-haul gives me time I rarely have to lose myself in a book. Time to read chapters, not only pages, and to be drawn into the author’s world and the characters they’ve created. 

Before each trip, I compile a reading list. Books which have been on my ‘to be read pile’ for too long, books about my destination, and books for comfort when I’m far from home.

However, I’ve learned some important lessons about books for the road.

After scaring myself silly in a San Francisco hotel room, I don’t read romantic suspense or mysteries on business trips. It’s indeed possible for authors to create worlds (and villains) that are too real, especially for a woman travelling solo.

I also prefer historical to contemporary fiction. In particular, I’m careful to select books where nobody gets on a plane.

I learned this one the hard way thanks to a story where the pilot heroine had to make an emergency landing, miles from an airport, in the vast Australian outback. I reached that point in the book just as my flight began to pitch and roll at 35,000 feet over Mongolia.

Especially in stressful situations, I’ve also found there’s nothing better than old favourites. Anne of Green Gables has kept me company during an Asian monsoon, and aircraft de-icing in a Canadian blizzard.

When travelling by train, my tastes are different. For shorter journeys, I need reading to dip in and out of. It’s when I catch up on articles about writing craft and industry.

It’s also when I look out the window, thoughts drifting as the landscape whizzes by, listening to the playlist for my work in progress. 

The only place I don’t read is in the car.  Road trips are family time, for word games and sharing our own stories too.

For this trip, I have The Last Runaway by historical novelist Tracy Chevalier, Lucy Kevin’s sweet romance, The Wedding Gift (the first book in her ‘Four Weddings and A Fiasco’ series), and Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches, an account of her nursing work during the American Civil War.

Do you choose reading material to fit your journey? Any suggestions for my next trip?


  1. Sue Bavin

    What an interesting insight into the world of the traveller, Jen! On the one hand, what a treat to immerse yourself in an absorbing read for the duration of a long-haul flight… while on the other, you have to be aware of all the “pitfalls” – not having scary material when you’re alone in a hotel room, etc.

    I’m delighted that Anne of Green Gables is one of your old favourites. Books from childhood have such a special hold over us. My favourite Anne book was “Anne of Avonlea.”

    Wishing you safe travels. Thank you as always for an interesting blog.

    • Jen Gilroy

      A belated, but no less sincere ‘thank you’ for commenting, Susanna. Childhood books hold a special place in my heart too. Amongst L.M. Montgomery’s books, the ‘Emily’ trilogy helped me believe in the possibility of a writing life. So far, ‘Jane of Lantern Hill’ is English Rose’s favourite.


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