Weighing my options

Later this summer John and I are spending 12 days on safari in Tanzania and Kenya. I’m not entirely sure how much time I will have for reading while we are there. The last time we were in Kenya I was in the travel business and we were on familiarization trip with a bunch of other travel agents and their spouses. Sometimes “fam trips” are deeply discounted, sometimes they are free, but they all require that the agent attendees participate in property visits, etc. so they can go home and better sell the product. The point of bringing all of this up is that on that fam trip we did game drives each morning and afternoon as well as some other activities, but the rest of the time we were carted around to look at other camps and resorts. My thought is that if you subtract out all of the travel agenty stuff there might end up being some time to read. There certainly won’t be any internet to distract me, although I will have to keep my eyes open for rogue snakes and such.

One of the quirks of a trip like this is that each person is strictly limited to 33 pounds (about 15 kg) of luggage. That means everything: clothes, shoes, toiletries, camera, binoculars, and yes, even books. For once the problem is not how many books I can fit in my luggage, but how much those books weigh. For those of you out there thinking “get a Kindle, dumbass”, well I really don’t know what to say to you except, that’s really not my thing.

Without having any idea of what a book might actually weigh I decided I would allow myself 2 pounds (or about 907 grams) of books. Then I got out my kitchen scale (which I noticed was kind of smudged up with cocoa of recipes past) and saw what a book actually weighed. Two pounds of books was going to be harder to figure out than I thought.

My first approach was gather up as many mass market editions as you own to see what might be worth taking. It turned out to be a rather odd mixture of older books.

The initial stack. Just over two kilos, which means it is 1.1 kilos heavier than what I am allowing myself. But I would never take that many on a 12-day vacation, would I? Those hardcover pocket editions of Trollope are surprisingly competitive in terms of pages per gram with the paperbacks.

Sometimes I like to take a chunkster on vacation. Like over a 1,000 pages kind of chunkster. But that seemed dangerous. What if I found myself desperately bored with whatever giant book I chose? That is one of my biggest bookish fears, best not to risk it. But what if I took along a chunkette rather than a chunkster. So I went back and combed my shelves for something in the 500-page range.

At a total weight of about 1.5 kg, I could take the bottom two with me. But I don’t think I could handle that limited a choice.

I started to think about the many possible combinations of books I could take but my scale battery was dying and I didn’t know how long it would last. It was clear I was going to have to get Excel involved. First step was to log the known data in terms of weight and number of pages. Next I calculated grams per page (gpp) and pages per gram (ppg) so I could see which books gave me the best bang for my buck. Then I used the sort function on the ppg column to see which books were most efficient in delivering pages at the least possible weight.

My first idea was to delete the weights of books starting at the bottom of the efficiency scale until I got close to 907 grams. The result was that I could take about seven books totaling 1,817 pages (see ‘Most Efficient’ column).  While taking those seven books would not be a bad thing, they just didn’t represent the variety I was hoping to have with me.

My second approach was to delete some of the top seven most efficient books that just weren’t speaking to me. I got rid of one of the Dickens’ novels so as not to have more than one by a single author. Next I got rid of The Ladies by Doris Grumbach because I think I have another book about the subject characters and thought I might want to do a more direct comparison of the two. And I got rid of the Bainbridge because I have never been successful getting into one of her books. I haven’t really tried all that hard so it’s not like I don’t think I would like them, but who wants to take a chance in this situation? Choosing which books might replace those three was pretty easy. It’s been a while since I have read some Trollope and at 403 pages Rachel Ray is almost a chunkette. One of the Graham Greenes also felt like an easy choice. I really like his work and there is still so much of it I haven’t read.

One of the things that surprises me about this pile is that I have already read The Bell. Do I really want to take along a re-read? It was one of the more efficient volumes so it had that in its favor. But for some reason, I also have a pretty strong urge to read it again. I’m not sure why. I think Under the Net may be my favorite Murdoch, but I don’t have that one in paperback.

Even after I came up with a good pile, the chunkettes were still talking to me. Wouldn’t this long journey without social media be perfect for a big book? Maybe I needed to come up an option that included one of the big ones. The Beth Book was the least efficient of all the books so that was an easy deletion. Although I will read Crime and Punishment one day, I’m not really in the mood for Russians right now. I know almost nothing about the Frank Norris but I think it will be my choice if I do take a chunkette with me.

Even taking one of the big books allows for having variety.

I think I am leaning toward the pile of six mass market paperbacks. It seems the safest bet. Although maybe I will be able to sneak another 470 grams and take The Octopus with me as well.

I should also mention that I have a total of three flights at 7, 7, and 6 hours a piece, and 24 hours at a country house in England before we land in Tanzania so chances are I will finish up one or two things before arriving in Africa. If I run out of things to read, I have 48 hours in the UK on the way home and will have time to replenish my stock for the flight home.

One final comment, I am not going to let Africa pass me by. When I went to Kenya in 2008 it felt like the trip of a lifetime. I am incredibly lucky to be going back to East Africa and have no idea if I will ever make it back. So if I don’t read one single page while I am there, I won’t be upset.

27 thoughts on “Weighing my options

  1. readerlane July 23, 2017 / 6:37 am

    Bookish dilemmas! What I do sometimes is pack something to read that I don’t expect to like well enough to keep, but then I worry I won’t enjoy it at all and will be short of something to read. Your final piles look tempting…


    • Thomas July 23, 2017 / 8:42 am

      I also try to chose editions that I don’t mind leaving behind even if I do love the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Muscato July 23, 2017 / 8:27 am

    Hmmm – indeed a dilemma. I think I’d go with the entire Forsyte Saga and some Dinesen, but that’s just me.


    • Thomas July 23, 2017 / 8:40 am

      I never even thought of the Forsyte Saga.That would be a great choice, unfortunately, my paperback edition is 840 grams. That would leave room for almost nothing else.


  3. Chris Wolak July 23, 2017 / 9:28 am

    Way to rock the Book Nerd post! I adore this post. The spreadsheet cinched it. I’ve only read one Frank Norris, McTeague, and seriously enjoyed it. When I read Martin Eden by Jack London (which you recommended) it brought McTeague to mind. Very different stories, but both deal with class/poverty in America. Bon voyage!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas July 25, 2017 / 1:17 pm

      I’ve never read anything by Frank Norris. I am leaning toward taking him.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. BookerTalk July 23, 2017 / 1:07 pm

    Your transatlantic flight and overnight stay in UK don’t have such strict weight restrictions so anything you want to read then is surely in addition to the ones you’ll take on safari? To answer your question about whether you’ll have time for reading, certainly you will – the safari trips are early morning and then sundown only. In between it’s too hot for the animals and humans so you’ll either be catching up on sleep or lounging by the pool….


  5. Liz Dexter July 23, 2017 / 1:44 pm

    I love this! I have never weighed books and although I do have a Kindle and take it on holiday, I always take real books, too (and have been known to only crack open the Kindle on the train home from the airport!). Do take “The Bell”. I need to read it again when I’ve finished writing up my research on it, just for fun again.


    • Thomas July 25, 2017 / 1:19 pm

      Most of my Murdoch is hardcover. If I want to read her on this trip, The Bell will be my only option.


  6. Geoff W July 24, 2017 / 11:23 am

    I need my boyfriend to read this. It makes my deliberations look normal :-D But I do always take a kindle with me in addition to whatever I take in case I get bored or don’t want to read what I brought. There are enough on there to keep me entertained.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ruthiella July 24, 2017 / 2:43 pm

    Oh man Thomas, it has been a long time since you have done a post like this and I find them so satisfying. I hope that isn’t weird. It is like the book lovers version of armchair travel.

    P.S. are you taking the subway again? If yes, I hope you are able to do your seen on the subway series now and again.


    • Thomas July 25, 2017 / 1:20 pm

      I am not taking these subways these days. Although I was on it a few times last week and it seemed to me that more people are reading real books these days than ebooks.


  8. Elizabeth Armstrong July 26, 2017 / 8:17 pm

    Hi Thomas! I know you are a Pym fan and wanted to tell you about a book I’ve just started, “What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories” by Laura Shapiro. One of her six subjects is Barbara Pym.

    I can’t give any sort of critique, as I’ve not gotten past the intro, but the fact that she covers Pym made me think of you.

    Have a wonderful time on safari, I’m very envious!


    • Thomas July 27, 2017 / 8:14 pm

      When I was at the Pym conference in 2013 Laura Shapiro presented a paper on food in Pym’s novels. She made me think totally differently about how Pym wrote about food.


  9. Karen K. July 27, 2017 / 6:58 am

    Your spreadsheet is brilliant — I am always agonizing which books to bring on a long trip (though I do read books on my phone, though I don’t particularly enjoy that format). Books for my carryon are the first thing I pack and what I waffle about most. I usually try to have at least one lovely long book (often a Victorian); something relating to the place I’m visiting, and then something frivolous. I rarely take library books or hardcovers in case they’re lost or damaged. I definitely like the idea of leaving some behind — you may also find a kindred spirit who will swap books with you, or previous guests who have left books behind.

    Finally, Rachel Ray is one of my favorites by Trollope so naturally I vote for that one. And do you have any books set in Africa or by African authors? I always like to read something to reflect my location if possible.


    • Thomas July 27, 2017 / 8:20 pm

      I’m pretty sure Rachel Ray is going. I often like Trollope in the summer and there’s a lot of bang for my buck in terms of ppg. I read a few Kenyan things when we went about a decade ago. These days all of my African lit seems to be coming from Nigeria and South Africa.

      I hope one or two of our lodges will have a take one, leave one library. At least three of our locations however tented camps that move three times a year so I am guessing they might not have such a thing.


  10. Anne Roy July 28, 2017 / 2:00 am

    I think this is what the Kindle was created for … many excellent, free to download classics on Gutenberg …
    I appreciate your pain though … I have 2 40 bus journeys a day, to and from work & make sure I always have two books in my bag.


  11. Patience July 29, 2017 / 11:14 am

    I love this! Your spreadsheet has to be the book-geekiest thing I have ever seen. :) I too prefer to travel with real books. I once took a stack of hardcover public library books all the way to Cape Town. No regrets, even though I didn’t come close to reading them all. Have fun on your trip! It seems that even on the most fascinating travel adventure, there is always a bit of down time in which to read.


    • Thomas August 4, 2017 / 8:52 am

      Once when I was a kid and regular customer at our local library, they said I still had a book checked out that I was convinced I had returned. Thankfully I convinced them as well so I didn’t have to pay for it. About two years later my friend’s grandmother in North Dakota found the book under a couch in the basement where I had slept on a visit. That was the last time I took a library book on vacation.


  12. Susan in TX July 31, 2017 / 7:15 pm

    Love the time put into this decision-making process.


  13. Mary Arth August 3, 2017 / 1:00 pm

    My husband and I are going to Kenya in January. I really have no idea what to expect. What clothes should I take?? Shorts or pants? Blouses or tee shirts?

    I love that you spend so much time picking out your books! I always take paperbacks and a chunkster on trips. I spend too much time picking them out. I love that you weighed them! My husband weighs my suitcase before we leave because I have had to leave books at the airport because my suitcase was over the limit!


    • Thomas August 4, 2017 / 8:55 am

      We pack as few things as possible and most things made out of high tech fabrics that are super light. We end up looking a bit ridiculous, like we just bought everything at an outfitters (because we did). This time I am determined not to look quite so much like an idiot. I am not sure how I will achieve that with the weight restrictions but I am going to give it a go. Our challenge is compounded this time by one of the locations having morning and evening temps in the 40s F.


  14. Bella G. Bear August 15, 2017 / 5:03 am

    such method :O personally I would probably take more books than I can read and forgot important stuff such as enough clean underwear or a sweather orso :p


  15. TextileRanger September 24, 2017 / 2:18 pm

    I prefer real books but I also rely on a Kindle to carry a lot of variety with me — and this morning it came in handy, because as I read your post and saw all those tempting books, I could instantly check the Kindle book store for them and download a bunch of samples to try. So thanks for spotlighting so many and giving a little description of so many too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.