I’m a novelist, but I do a lot of business travel. Maybe you’re under the impression that novelists spend their days and nights in garrets scribbling away on the next tome, but these days most of us work on Great (or not) American Novels at Starbucks or, more likely, in depressing cinderblock offices in the English Department—what the heck is a garret*, anyway?
Possibly 14 literary novelists in the United States earn their living by books alone. (I invented that number. Come on, I write fiction; we’re allowed to make things up.) Novelists teach, often part-time, frequently at colleges a long way from home. Hence, we travel. I’m home-based in a little town in Maine but last year taught part-time in Colorado while holding down a fellowship in The Netherlands and a writer-in-residence gig in Kansas. I also had a new book out, which meant book-touring: bookstores, book clubs and writer festivals from Halifax to Denver—basically a sales trip. My agent also sold rights in France, which meant, bien sur, lunch in Paris with a French editor and translator. And did I mention I’m an historical novelist? Research, lots of it—so more travel. The new book is set in Weimar-era Frankfurt, far-west Texas and New York City. As well as Rotterdam, Montreal, Berlin, Dublin and, oh yes, the Isle of Wight. I’ve visited most of these places in the last 12 months.
Thankfully, travel means coming home sooner or later. In our family, that implies presents. I admit, looking out for presents on the road is something I do more for my own hotel-lonesome sake than for my wife or our son. They don’t need the stuff. But it’s a massive morale boost to visit a toy shop on a drizzly mid-winter day in Berlin and find a die-cast 1/43 scale Corvette—the 2011 C6ZR1 #73 racecar—for a 7-year-old boy on the other side of the ocean.
The right presents are hard to find. BB (my wife) is an art director on photo shoots. Her work is all about clothes, so it’s a challenge buying clothes for her—even in Paris or Berlin, not to mention Colorado Springs. Clothes she’ll like, I mean. And even if I think I have the style thing down, there’s the size issue. Women’s sizes in Europe and the U.S. use different metrics. Nothing’s consistent with actual fit. Clothes are a gamble.
Question: What else packs in a roll-on suitcase that’s been on the road two weeks and is already overmatched?
This has been the year of leather. Starting with a very small, very cool handbag found in Brooklyn last fall. That went over well. Next a cool leather belt, from Liebeskind in Berlin, found at a shop in Colorado Springs. Another hit. A superbly supple pair of leather gloves, from the shop at the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt. Score again. Leather is luscious; leather is beautiful; leather lasts.
Note: The handbag and the gloves were napa leather. If you don’t know what napa is, find out before you order your 2014 Stingray, because napa leather seats are an available option on America’s legendary go-fast car.
The skinny: Napa is a full-grain leather made from unsplit lamb- or kid-skin tanned with salts of chromium or aluminum. The tanning process was invented by Emanuel Manasse, in Napa, California, in 1875. Famous for suppleness, softness and durability, napa leather is used in luxury leather products like high-quality leather furniture, and cherished personal items like handbags, gloves—and Corvettes.
BB, having just read this piece in draft, suggests a 2014 Stingray—napa-leather equipped—would make a wonderful hey-I’m-home! present.
She’s joking, right?
I tell her they’re hard to carry on the plane.
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Peter Behrens, author of the award-winning novels The Law of Dreams and The O’Briens, blogs about cars and trucks at autoliterate. He lives in Brooklin, ME and Marfa, TX. Follow him on Twitter @phbehrens.
*gar·ret noun \ˈger-ət, ˈga-rət\ : a room or unfinished part of a house just under the roof.