I don't care how much sustenance I'm getting from a book -- if I can't carry it for long, it doesn't go out of my apartment.
This is on my mind often, since I've just started reading a second "home book" -- Richard Rhodes' masterful "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (Simon and Schuster, 1986). Its notes begin on p. 791 and its bibliography on p. 848; its index ends on p. 886.
My first "home book" is the quite different, yet also masterful "Abigail and John Adams" The Americanization of Sensibility" by G.J. Barker Benfield (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Its notes begin on p. 437 and its index on p. 491, ending on p. 501. However, since it's in hardcover compared to the paperback "Bomb," it's also heavy.
I haven't even tried going out with these books since I brought them home. Each subject is worth quiet time in my armchair, and the weight of each book doesn't lend itself to carrying on the bus so much as to dropping on the bus -- which I am loath to do.
"Bus books" are lighter in both the physical and the metaphorical senses -- easy to carry or easy to keep an ear out for the right stop. As I've described earlier, figuring out how much I could read while commuting was an essential part of feeling at home in my new neighborhood. But "bus books" aren't all re-reading.
Since I attended a French-American Science Festival at Alliance Francaise back in April, my favorite bus book has been "Le boson et le chapeau mexicain" by Gilles Cohen-Tannoudji and Michel Spiro (Editions Gallimard, 2013). This story of "The boson and the Mexican hat" is the history of nuclear and particle physics, told in French. Its appendices start on p. 476, but it is a pocket-sized paperback. I was on page 275 as I started drafting this article -- slow going, yes, but it's like doing French homework and physics homework all at once. Thanks to the clear explanations of Messrs. Cohen-Tannoudji and Spiro, I usually have less trouble with the French in this book than I do with the last novel I read in French. Thus, it makes a great "bus book" and gives me a feeling of accomplishment from reading it during my commutes.
Before you comment, no, I won't solve the bus vs. home debate by switching to a Nook or a Kindle. Browsing through bookshelves -- a shop's or my own -- is so much more fun than loading files and staring at screens.
When my right hand gets tired of carrying too much, I would rather clean out my purse than reduce how much reading matter I'm carrying. (Yes, Mr. Shakespeare, "Who steals my purse steals trash!")
So, even if you are done picking out your "beach books" for the year, think of "bus books" as the next best thing -- after all, both are good reading while traveling.
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