The One Other Book

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I’m packed, booked, splattered with visas and ready to go. The Chinese Visa Application Centre near Bank is an absolute traveller’s dream – sparkling new, terribly efficient and well-organised. I picked up my passport with its Chinese visa yesterday and walked down Cheapside grinning like an idiot – in fact I had to stop myself from confiding to a stranger at the pedestrian crossing that “I’ve got a Chinese visa now, you know.” I don’t think random City b(w)ankers are the best people with whom you can share this sort of news.

After much vacillation I have also chosen my One Other Book to take. The longstanding reader(s) of this blog will not be surprised by my choice. I have already planned to take a small Russian phrasebook, an even smaller dictionary, the Trans-Siberian Handbook by Bryn Thomas, the Rough Guide to Nepal, the 100-page emergency poetry anthology and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. All quite small volumes, and the Nepal guide will be ditched before I leave that country.

My criteria for the One Other Book were simply that it must be small and light yet interesting enough to be consulted repeatedly for seven weeks. Seven weeks! That’s about fourteen books’ worth of time. The shortlist included A History of Religion East and West by Trevor Ling, the first volume of Copleston’s history of philosophy, the Metheun Dictionary of Modern Painting (a brilliant book, go and buy it immediately) and – a drastic choice – Taking No Other Books at All. None of the other choices, apart from the last, qualified as small and light, and the last cannot be consulted repeatedly. In the end I went and bought a new paperback copy of One Way Street and Other Writings by Walter Benjamin. It’s less than 300 pages yet can be read over and over, and weighs far less than my pre-existing hardback copy, which however is a better book as it has an introduction by Susan Sontag and a better selection of other essays in it.  But it’s certainly not worth carting around the extra weight and bulk – the Penguin edition will be sufficient, and as it’s a spare copy it doesn’t matter what happens to it.

This is it now. All the decisions have been made. Everything that can be booked has been booked. Now I can just relax and go on holiday.

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