Sweet Home Chicago, Part Deux

Well, I’m back home in Chicago again. After returning from New Orleans, I turned around and headed off to St. Paul, Minnesota with the wife and kids to visit the in-laws. (Sorry-I just like old-timey phrasing like “the wife and kids” and “the in-laws.” I’m not actually a salesman from the 1950s.) I almost mentioned this before but then I remembered that the point of the visit was to surprise my father-in-law on the occasion of his retirement.

I often write about the more intellectual and esoteric concerns of book reviewing, but there are practical ones, too. (I’m not talking about financial compensation-in the world of book reviewing, that’s practically theoretical.) Books are heavy. As I noted in my post, “Five Minutes a Day,” there were a couple of glossy-papered books that I couldn’t take with me to New Orleans. I wouldn’t have taken them to St. Paul, either, except that the reviews are due tomorrow and I didn’t want to make them up.

Traveling with two kids, it’s necessary to calculate the luggage logistics with the same precision as an expedition to climb Mount Everest. Only weight isn’t the issue here-it’s the number of hands available to carry everything. Two kids, two car seats, a stroller, a suitcase, a book bag (the kids’), and a diaper/lunch/electronics/extra clothing bag don’t all add up exactly to four hands, but close enough. I crammed my review books into the family suitcase, unzipped the expandable layer, hefted it, and crossed myself. At the airport, the suitcase tipped the scales at 50.0 pounds exactly. The skycap shook his head, grunted, and eased the bag onto the baggage cart.

On the return trip, the ticket agent had a less rigorous approach-he must have had a scale in his arm-but also gave us a pass, which was good, because we’d purchased eight ounces of popcorn seasoning on our trip, putting us over the limit.

Book reviewers, if they don’t want to end up hunchbacked and groaning-well, hunchbacked anyway-all have different tactics for dealing with the transportation issue. Airy as any prose might be, on the page it must also be calculated in pounds. I recommend a messenger bag with a very broad strap, or better, an internal-frame backpack with padded straps, the kind suitable for mountaineering.

The most ingenious solution I’ve yet heard of, though, is employed by our own Hazel Rochman, who, I’ve been told by someone in the know, rips big galleys in half to create more portable two-volume sets.

Our long writing period has come to an end, and I must finalize my reviews for Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker, Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear, Michael Simon’s Little Faith, Debbie Weil’s The Corporate Blogging Book, and Keir Radnedge’s The Treasures of the World Cup (I’m giving the last a star because the author has the same first name as me*).

When I started my previous family leave, I found myself excitedly making a stack of great books I’d never read. This time I’ve agreed to keep reviewing (what would I write about here if I didn’t keep reviewing?), so instead I find myself stacking up the books I’ll review next. It’s not quite as exciting, but the hope of discovering a great new book is almost as good as the anticipation of discovering a great old book (the odds are better on the latter-the reviews are already in).

For the next 12 weeks I’ll be writing N.P. (Naps Permitting).

Speaking of which, gotta run. The little guy is waking up, and France is playing Portugal.

*Not really.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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