Take a Trip and Embrace the Journey
by Jared Richards, Learning and Information Services Supervisor
When it comes to train travel, the most on-the-nose saying is that life is about the journey, not the destination. My family recently went on a train trip that started with a seven-hour delay, then we broke down in the desert, then we were overly-polite (or just a stickler for the rules) and let every freight train go by, and finally we arrived over twenty hours late. But I would still highly recommend the experience, assuming you don’t need to get somewhere in a timely manner. The actual journey consisted of hanging out with my family, eating good food, and taking in the scenery as it rolled by, all of which is much harder to do behind the wheel of a car.
Although I am a fan of trains, I must admit I don’t spend a lot of time reading about them, despite my dream of one day getting into model railroading. But there are plenty of good books not involving trains that focus on the journey.
One of the more literal ones is “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne. Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew, find a coded note that tells them that the center of the earth can be reached via the volcanic tubes found beneath a volcano in Iceland. They enlist the support of an Icelandic guide to help them discover the wonders hidden beneath the earth’s crust. This includes a large ocean, giants, and prehistoric animals. As a kid I was enthralled by Jules Verne. His books featured epic journeys to the moon, under the ocean, into the earth, and around the globe. These stories were written in the 1800s, which makes them all the more interesting.
Also in the 1800s, we have “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. Jerome intended to write a travel guide, which is why there are historical bits spread throughout the book, but it’s really just a funny book about the misadventures of three friends traveling on the Thames by boat. It’s one of the few books that has actually brought me to tears from laughter.
For a slightly-more-recent adventure, there is “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green. Colin and his friend Hassan set off on a road trip after graduating high school, following Colin’s most recent breakup from a girl named Katherine. This is Colin’s nineteenth relationship with a girl named Katherine, hence the title. Starting in Chicago, they end up picking up a summer job in Tennessee interviewing the locals for an oral history project, while also maybe kindling a relationship with someone not named Katherine.
Bill Bryson is known for his humorous travel books. My favorite Bryson book is “A Walk in the Woods,” which features his attempt, with a friend, to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’ve had enough experience hiking that this book is very relatable. With modern forms of transport, it is rarely necessary to walk long distances anymore (speaking for myself, obviously). This means that long hikes are purely for the sake of the journey. It allows you to slow down, focus on your steps, listen to the world around you, and hopefully ignore the annoying traits of your hiking companions, like their inability to maintain an even pace, or not securing their gear so it’s banging and clanging all over the place.
To be fair to my initial anecdote, I feel compelled to at least mention a couple train books that are now in my queue because spending over fifty hours on a train has piqued my interest into other experiences. The first is “Off the Rails” by Beppe Severgnini, in which he talks about various train trips he has taken in his life around Europe, Asia, Australia, and the United States.
And lastly, we have Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar.” This book, first published in 1975, recounts his journey from the UK to Japan and back, over the course of four months. I am intrigued to find out if my experience was unique or relatively commonplace when it comes to train travel.
It would be hard for you to throw a rock and not hit a book that was all about the journey and not the destination. I know this. You know this. It’s a cliché for a reason. But also, don’t throw stones. If you need help finding a new book and going on a journey, just ask a librarian. We’re all over the place at the library, and we’re here to help.