Magazines are fine for doctor’s waiting rooms, reading in bed or the beach, or paging through in other environments that are by nature relatively short-term time commitments. We read lots of magazines at home, but a train is a long-term commitment that enables you to focus on big books you might not otherwise have enough distraction-free time to focus upon.

We traveled from Chicago to Denver to Oakland to Seattle to Montana and back again in a 15 day period; 5 of those days were spent on the train. On a train you have time. You will not be happy on the train if you are in a hurry. Our train originating in Chicago started 45 minutes late and ended up being over four hours late; our train from Denver to Oakland was five hours late when it arrived in the Mile High City, and it was even more behind schedule when it arrived in California. On reason for this regular train tardiness is that Amtrak doesn’t own the rails, which are controlled by larger freight carriers and, of course, those carriers get priority for their goods: we sometimes waited up to an hour for a freight train to clear before our passenger train could get through.

Whatever.

On a train, you have time. If you’re in a hurry, take a plane.

Magazines, poems and collections of short stories provide discontinuous experiences, too much stopping and starting for the steady forward flow of riding the rails.

For reading on a train, I suggest books. Long books.

Never read Ulysses? Now would be an excellent time to give the James Joyce classic another (or maybe one last) shot.

Still regretful you used Cliff Notes to get you through Moby Dick in college? Now’s the time to make amends and have at the white whale.

Me, I went with Macauley’s History of England. I’ve wanted to read this classic for some time, but I knew that if I started at home there would be too many distractions, too many reasons not to push ahead. The train, it seemed, was a perfect time to sink into this time-honored narrative. If not on a train, when the rails stretch in front of you seemingly endlessly, when?

Have trouble reading on a train?  The Oak Park Public Library can hook you up with several services that enable you to download audio books that give you two weeks to listen to best-sellers as well as classics as you roll.

And that gets to the heart of train travel. It takes time. You can’t be in a rush (or you will be very disappointed) and you have to love the experience of moving though the American landscape at a leisurely pace. If you bring some good things to eat and read, it can be the best travel experience. There is no better way to see our country than from a train seat.

Unlike the drudgery and constant danger of travelling by car (the surest way to die before reaching your destination) or the expensive, uncomfortable efficiency of plane travel, train travel is slower, almost contemplative, and it provides a down-to-earth look at parts of America that can only be seen from a train window. Train travel is an adventure that gives you lots of time to get to know a book.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...