I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t turn to a book when holidaying. Even those most reluctant readers have one in tow when boarding a plane to their destination. Among mornings at the market, dripping afternoon ice creams and barmy Mediterranean evenings, days spent invested in books stand out in my memory of childhood holidays. I remember laying beside the pool in Portugal reading Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful around the age of 12 and crying for the very first time at someone else’s creation. I was always in awe of adults tearing up at music, and when my older sister sobbed through Moulin Rouge!, I wondered when I’d know all those emotions enough not just to see them, but to feel them also. It felt like a pivotal moment in my growing up. Of course I didn’t know that a decade later I’d be crying at every film, book, TV show, song, advert, trailer that even remotely hints at any emotion other than indifference. But hey, it’s good to feel.
Holidays, whether a two week jaunt or a weekend mini break afford people that rare thing in the modern world: guilt-free time. Stepping on the transport that will take you where you’re going means stepping away from that which you know, where chores, commitments and responsibilities continually hold the trump card over idealistic escapism. Reading is a get out clause for the ‘I can’t do nothing people’. You can wile away hours without even noticing and instead of forcing relaxation, it just comes as a natural byproduct of being immersed in a great story.
The difficult part is the preparation. How do you decide what to read? Sure, you may have a pile waiting on the bedside table but you might not quite feel thrilling Scandi-noir when on sandy shores. Likewise, all the chick lit bestsellers of 2018 may be frivolous fun, but taking ten quick reads in your hand luggage is going to create problems 4 days in to the holiday when you realise you shouldn’t of sacrificed the extra pants and socks after all. It’s a fine art choosing the perfect read for your getaway, a balance beam to walk with heft on one side and froth on the other.
I’ve collated a list of the different types of reads I veer towards when in holiday mode, whether that means venturing to exotic lands or just scooting across the country for a city break. Which category will you be going for next?
The Adventurer : The Beach by Alex Garland
Adventure stories are fairly new to me. I tend to go for slow, meandering, plotless novels which explore big themes through intricate writing. However, reading something fast-paced on my latest holiday was fun and left me craving more. This novel is the gasp-inducing, twisting, unputdownable page turner which you sacrifice the day trip round the local town for. From page one, you’re intrigued; from page fifty, you’re invested and at page four-hundred, you just want to start all over again.
My friend recommended The Beach not only because we were going to Thailand for three weeks, but simply because it’s just a great novel. It tells the story of Richard, a young British traveller who is directed by a mystery man to a secret beach in the Southern Islands, protected from travellers and seemingly the perfect paradise. Garland not only thrills and excites in his telling of the journey to and life on The Beach, but also explores the big question: can utopia ever really exist?
The Bookshelf Bandit : Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
You know the one that just keeps getting away, stealing guilt and shame from you when someone asks ‘Haven’t you read [insert any Bronte/Austen/Fitzgerald novel]? Oh come on, it’s a classic!’? It’s been on the shelf for years, and you’ve been weighed down time and again the pressure to read it. You’ve put it off in favour of your favourite author’s new release or a collection of short stories that are much more compatible with your inability to stay awake past 9:30pm on a weekday. Well, they are classics for a reason and when you get beyond the wordiness or lengthy introductions, this category of novel is really quite spellbinding.
I particularly recommend Jane Eyre as an audio book. There is an excellent version read by Juliet Stevenson which is the perfect combination of storytelling and acting, neither hammy nor monotonous. The first third of Jane Eyre I found dragged, but beyond that it is exactly the book its reputation gives it. Now is the time, seize the day and seize a classic!
The Challenger: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Not all holidays are for finding your zen, chilling out to the max and lounging aimlessly for days on end. Sometimes you don’t need to numb the mind, distract from whizzing thoughts or take a meditative break. So this category is for those texts that challenge conventional thought, force you to have an internal debate and probe moral questions.
Lolita tops many a list of ‘Books You Should Read Before Your Die’ and ‘Best Books of the 20th Century’, and for good reason. I read it in a few days, partly desperate to finish to move on from the troubling themes, partly because I was hooked. Upon my return, it was still as alive in my head as on first reading and I spent a whole evening on WhatsApp with a friend debating it in depth. It’s not easy, it’s not light, and it’s not one I’d be desperate to return to, but Nabokov does encourage a discussion and thought that, arguably, all good novels should.
The Eye Opener : Animal by Sara Pascoe and How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb
Every day is a school day, and a holiday is no exception. I’ve friends who exclusively read self-help books, inspiring memoirs and how to guides on holiday. It may be their down time from the daily grind, but it’s also the opportunity to add fuel to that niggling ambitious fire in the backs of their mind. How can we be better? How can we dream bigger? How can we get more out of the everyday? A holiday is a great opportunity to absorb more than you may do on the distracted daily commute.
I recommend Animal and How Not To Be A Boy as a bumper pack. Both explore gender, sex, bodies, toxic masculinity, stereotypical femininity, the roles of men and women in heterosexual relationships and in society more broadly. Webb’s is for the most part a memoir whilst Pascoe is more a scientific and social exploration of the female body with mentions of her own experience. I’m desperate to read both again. They moved me, left me chuckling, and opened my mind to many a train of thought I’d never even contemplated going down.
The Holiday Fling : Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The stereotypical holiday read! The rom-com of the novel world – and all the better for it. Light-hearted, often predictable, likely emotional and guaranteed good fun. I find this category best to delve in to if you’ve an e-reader in tow, that way you can find the author you like and go through their back catalogue, or read every novella, short story, sequel and prequel attached to the text you started with. Chick lit and women’s fiction are often sniffed at, but they’re also often the novels which tackle weighty issues in an elegant, accessible way.
This category requires some try before you by (again, e-readers allow previews). Shop around and find the author whose stories you can most relate to. For warmth, wit and lessons in finding yourself, try Giovanna Fletcher; for novels that tug at the heart strings, Cecilia Ahern; and for true romance, Jojo Moyes is your gal. Then go to ‘readers also like…’ and get lost in this lovely, slushy category while working your way through the Happy Hour cocktail menu!
The Holiday Romance : Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
When travelling alone, I notice the air of romance laced in cities far more. The couples dining on the streets of Athens are surrounded by bird song and back lit by fireworks; the ones splashing in the sea together are carefree and light; closed hotel doors hint at the intimacy and passion that lays behind them. Meanwhile, the only lightheadedness you feel is from dehydration and you wouldn’t want any future lover to see the angles you were bent at trying to get sun cream on your back. Just remember, sandy beaches are never as sexy as they look in the aftermath and even the most glamorous dining experience offers a very real threat of food poisoning when abroad. Thank your lucky stars your travelling alone, and turn to the refined, condensed, edited perfection of a romantic novel instead.
Upon composing this category, I’ve realised the majority of the books I read are love stories. Unfortunately, they also tend to be tragic! Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn has it’s share of tragedy but remains warm and tender at every page and leaves you feeling giddy and lovesick. Download the film for the plane for double impact, and please recommend some uplifting love stories so I can expand my view of romance and resist becoming a cynic at the age of 24…
The Intellectual : The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
AKA weighty, dense and probably academic. Not for the faint-hearted reader as complexities in writing, plotting or timing can make these books tedious. This is the kind of book I read many of for my degree because I had to, but often struggle to really invest in when at home. I think they require a bit of time and effort to get in to, but once you are, you have that wonderful twinkling curiosity that it takes a great writer to create.
The Line of Beauty was Hollinghurst’s Man Booker Prize Winner. It tells the story of Nick Guest, a young man who lives in the attic of his wealthy friend’s family home in Notting Hill. Nick is preoccupied by beauty and sees it in all that’s around him: people, architecture, lust, the world. Hollinghurst’s writing is intricate and reflects perfectly what Nick craves most. Being on holiday, I had the space and time to not only get lost in the story, but also in the craftsmanship, to the point where I paced the swimming pool for 2 hours just to finish!
The Life Coach: Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
There are endless quotes about how books can educate, inspire and enlighten us in our personal lives. It’s easy to see how we need stories to understand ourselves, those near to us, and the wider world. When reading novels though, the lessons we learn may be limited by the experience we bring to it, but memoirs offer us a more direct route to enlightenment in the form of someone else’s. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been a First Lady, aren’t a male comedian or don’t know squat about astrophysics, reading the story of someone else can offer illuminating advice on a situation you’ve yet to – or never will – find yourself in.
That being said, when it comes to Dolly Alderton most women in their twenties will relate. Writing on loss, love, careers, parties, family, or friendship, Dolly just gets it. It’s fun, moving, and laugh out loud funny. If you’re travelling with your best friends, share this book around; if you’re travelling alone, let it become your best friend.
Written by Katherine Warren