Notes from the cheap seats…

Nothing seems important at 30,000 feet except the vague possibility of a safe landing after a flight lasting 14 hours. And maybe that’s why so many of us opt to bury ourselves in a book in order to wile away the time. Indeed, we devote a great deal of time and thought to choosing on what literary works will find their way into our carry-ons.

I am somewhere over the vast Pacific Ocean, between Sydney and Vancouver, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to now devote my full attention to the book I’ve chosen as my companion for this long flight: Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka. She’s the best-selling author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which was translated into 29 languages.

Her books are amazing.  Two Caravans recounts the adventures of a group of Eastern European immigrants—and the stray dog who adopts them—who go to Kent to pick strawberries, only to find themselves in a dangerous world of exploitative employers and predatory recruitment agents.

I had read her ‘tractors’ book in 2005 when it was short-listed for Britain’s Man Booker Prize. At the time, what had drawn me to it was the title.

How imaginative and courageous is that? To write your first novel and call it A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.  It sounds more like an academic paper written by an EU agricultural sub-committee.

So what’s in a title? Not much, it seems. At the end of the day—the writing’s what matters and, more importantly, getting the readers to read that writing. Case in point, I had initially wanted to call my debut novel The Improbable Adventures of George Aloysius Brown. I was told it wasn’t quite catchy enough, so I called it Spank instead—and it’s a title that certainly gets people’s attention. As they say in the theatre biz, ‘it’s all about getting butts into seats.”

When we arrive over Vancouver we knife through dark swollen clouds as raindrops on the windows obscure the dawn. Suddenly there is a bump; we have landed. I didn’t even know we were on final approach.

A good book will do that to you.

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