Anyone who's ever travelled on business knows about the need to kill time – whether during interminable layovers in airports, on lengthy flights, or even once safely ensconced at the hotel. And what better way to pass the time than by catching up on the books you've been meaning to read but simply haven't had time to get to while chained to the desk at work?
Marketing manager Rani Chatoorgoon, who travels frequently from her Toronto office to Atlanta and Vancouver for work meetings, is never without reading material when she's on the road, often spending the duration of a flight lost in a good book or magazine. Like many busy professionals, travel gives her the chance to delve into the reading they might not otherwise get to, such as keeping up with books that touch on their particular field of business.
During a recent business trip, Ms. Chatoorgoon picked up the bestseller Freakonomics, by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. "They have a cool way of talking about economics in populist terms, so it was a great read to pass the time," Ms. Chatoorgoon says.
But others prefer to use the downtime for far more escapist reading – just ask Toronto lawyer Jyota Bhardwarj, whose 60-hour workweek leaves little time for anything else.
"I rarely get a chance to read while I'm at home," Ms. Bhardwarj notes, "so the minute I get on a plane, the last thing I want is to be reading anything work- or business-related. Give me a good mystery or chick-lit novel any day!"
Booksellers and publishing-industry experts know first hand that frequent fliers tend to be avid readers, often stocking up on books en route to their destination. The popularity of e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle or Indigo Books' Kobo device has also been a boon to the business traveller, says Indigo's public relations manager Lisa Huie.
"E-readers are light as a feather and portable – most travellers are trying to pack light and probably don't want to be carrying a lot of heavy books with them, so it's a great option for folks on the go," Ms. Huie says. "It's like carrying a library in your pocket."
We asked experts to offer their suggestions for the ideal travel reads, from books that capture the peripatetic life, to must-read biz primers, to breezy reads for a few days away.
On the road
Steven Beattie, reviews editor of Canadian publishing industry trade magazine Quill and Quire, notes that books about the road life tend to be a natural fit for travellers.
Up in the Air, by Walter Kirn (Anchor Books): "It's probably better known from the movie that came out last year with George Clooney," Mr. Beattie says. "It's about a guy who spends his working life travelling and spending time in airports, so it's kind of the ideal airplane read."
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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, by Bill Bryson (Random House): "A very humorous look at a side of America you don't always see on business trips. I think for someone who does a lot of travel, it could be rather eye-opening. He visits a lot of places you don't often hear about, and does it in a very tongue-in-cheek way."
Roadtripping, by Conni Massing (Brindle and Glass): "Massing is a theatre artist in Alberta in a group called Buffalo Gals. This is sort of her version of Bill Bryson's book, except set in small-town Alberta. It's very funny – she visits the world's largest perogie, and has a bunch of tales to tell about areas in the province that are not necessarily well-known to people."
Situated in Toronto's financial district, Ben McNally's eponymous independent bookstore not only carries a host of business titles but also sees many customers come through the door looking for last-minute reading en route to the airport.
"People come in and say, 'I've got an eight-hour plane ride, so I need at least four hours of reading out of that,'" Mr. McNally explains. He says his picks reflect the rise in customers seeking books to help them better understand the recent economic crisis:
When Money Was in Fashion, by June Breton Fisher (Palgrave Macmillan): "It has to do with the beginnings of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, and takes a look at how things all started," Mr. McNally says. "A lot of people don't have a real sense of history – a lot of what's happening now has its basis in how things began."
Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin (Viking): "Deals with the abyss that opened and how close everyone was to it. I guess a lot of people couldn't really get a handle on the crisis – how did that come to be? Was this something people could have seen coming?"
High Financier, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin): "This is the story of Siegmund Warburg – he started his own bank after he escaped from Hitler's Germany. What separates this guy was that he was concerned with ethics and integrity – completely the antithesis of the grab-everything-you-can lifestyle. Ferguson is a great writer, and his books tend to be huge hits."
Poorly Made in China, by Paul Midler (Wiley): "Midler spoke Mandarin, so when he went to China, he was really in demand, and ended up working for a lot of people, mostly American companies. It's a travelogue-style look at the manufacturing sector and what a bag of shells it can be, where Western companies want to save a few pennies on everything they buy, and obviously quality takes a back seat. There's a lesson in there for all of us consumers."
Indigo Books not only sees its fair share of travellers seeking out good reads at its many locations across the country, but also sells books at several kiosk shops at a handful of Canadian airports. The chain also publishes an annual list of the best summer reads that many voracious lit-lovers turn to for their fix of the latest fiction, says Indigo's Huie.
"Oftentimes travellers may turn to light, breezy fiction – an easy read to pass the time," Ms. Huie says. But whatever you choose to read, travel affords you the time to really dive in. Books are the best place for escape, inspiration and information, so they make an ideal travel partner."
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin): "There are a number of fiction titles hitting the big screen this summer, and this is one of the big ones," Ms. Huie says of the massively popular travelogue that's been adapted into a forthcoming movie starring Julia Roberts.
Think of a Number, by John Verdon (Random House): "An extraordinary fiction debut, this compelling thriller boasts a gripping pace and nuanced characters that captivated readers won't easily forget."
Quill and Quire's Beattie says there's one can't-miss novel of the season – and it happens to be the debut offering by a Canadian writer (and hits bookstore shelves this week):
Still Missing, by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin's Press): "[The publishers] have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the advance publicity campaign, which is practically unheard of for a first novel," Mr. Beattie says. "So they're expecting really great things from it, and everyone I've talked to who has read it so far says it's really good. It's about a realtor who gets kidnapped while showing a house, and the narration features her talking to a therapist after it's all over. It's been compared to Silence of the Lambs, that kind of gripping story – it's the kind of genre thriller that would be perfect reading for a long flight."