What Books Not to Pack

Everett Jones -- September 18th, 2013

As the previous post to this blog explored, a key part of any book lover’s travel plans consists of which books to bring along. When other people are deciding how they’ll be spending their days or where they’ll be dining at night, we are selecting just the right books to pack, transport, and possibly even get around to reading at our chosen destination. For a brief, recent trip to attend a friend’s wedding, though, I didn’t put any such thought into the reading material I stowed away into a traveling bag minutes before leaving for the airport. The only criteria was to shrink the “to read” section of my bookshelf that’s been steadily growing over the course of this year. And, so, it was just a coincidence that two of the books happened to contain, respectively, the words “wedding” and “marriage” in their titles.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, due out from St. Martin’s Press this November, is an authorized sequel, by Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong), to P.G. Wodehouse’s beloved series of comic novels and short stories  about the brilliant, unflappable butler Jeeves and his dense, extremely flappable employer Bertie Wooster. I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies, which was published in January by Knopf, is a study by film historian Jeanine Basinger (The Star Machine) of how the sacred institution of wedlock fared in Golden Age Hollywood, where in films like Woman of the Year, Made for Each Other, and The Long, Long Trailer marriage was celebrated, probed, and sometimes rendered a little less sacred. How the relevance of these two titles initially passed me by , I have no idea, but as soon as they were unpacked, even I couldn’t miss that two likely-looking wedding gifts were sitting in front of me. And what could make a better gift than a book?

For me, at least, that question is easily answered. Of course, I already had a present picked out for the wedding, something practical for the new couple’s starter home, but the temptation to add a book or two on top of it was a hard to resist. Selecting the right book as a present can be as much an invitation to obsess as choosing one as a traveling companion, and finding the right one far more satisfying than by-the-numbers gift-giving. After all, the average gamer will probably appreciate the latest Grand Theft Auto, and the average movie buff should be happy with a DVD of last year’s Best Picture, but a satisfactorily gifted book has to be as closely matched to the recipient as a new outfit or suit.

On the other hand, an unwanted book is a much worse outcome than a piece of electronic media being left in its plastic wrapper untouched. As a gift, a book says something about who you think its intended owner is. If your perception is drastically different from that person’s self-image, the book will be about as much use as clothing tailored to wildly inaccurate measurements. And in this case, I realized that I couldn’t say how welcome either book would be. I’d known the bride for years, but had only met her husband a few times before. Maybe the latter part of the title “I Do or I Don’t” wouldn’t be welcome, certainly not from a near-stranger. As for Jeeves, I wasn’t sure that the groom would want to feel that he was being compared to the idiotic Bertie Wooster. And without having finished the book, how could I know that the promised wedding bells would make for a happy ending? (Okay, I probably didn’t have to finish the book to know that.)

The books went back into the traveling bag, and back with me on my return flight. Sometimes, the book most apt for a given occasion isn’t the most appropriate one for it.

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