The secret to choosing the perfect holiday reading

Tomorrow I fly to the States for my little brother’s wedding. Leaving aside how weird it is that tiny sticky-handed brothers can grow up to become nice people and get married to other nice people anyway, like what business is it of theirs getting older, I have a fair few things to ponder over this morning. Not least: narrowing down the book pile that will go into my carry-on.

(No, I don’t have a Kindle. Yes, I can finally see the value in it and probably will succumb at some point, but today is not that day.)

I have a fail-safe rule when it comes to holiday books, and this applies even if you do have a schmancy e-reader and are wondering what to download. It goes:

something old

something new

something funny

something true

If you’re thinking that this holiday is the chance you’ll get to finally get through the Booker shortlist, I’m here to tell you that’s probably not going to happen. Holiday brain is real. By the time you’ve got over the dribbling relief of being away from your normal routine and in a pretty place by a pool, you can forget the Serious Novel.

Here’s my pile for the Arizona desert:


old: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

By ‘old’ I mean an old favourite – one you’ve read and reread till you can quote the opening sentence on the first dog-eared page.  Agatha is my go-to comfort read, as you probably know. And Then There Were None is so forties it hurts, and fiendishly, blood-curdlingly clever. I know exactly whodunnit and I still can’t leave it alone. 

new: Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

By which I mean, again, new to you. There’s nothing like discovering something magnificent in a new place. The two become forever linked in your head, and thinking about one will remind you, beautifully, of the other. I am ashamed to say that I haven’t yet read Mansfield Park, and a seventeen-hour travelling day will probably leave me enough time to get stuck in. Besides, wouldn’t a dash of Regency manners be a perfect antidote to sitting in economy like a trussed-up chicken?

funny: Terry Pratchett’s Mort* 

You don’t want to be hammering through some literary theory when you hit turbulence or are waiting for your third delayed flight. You want something quick and hilarious. Terry Pratchett might not be your laugh-magnet of choice – choose whoever is –  but Mort is one of my oldest and most beloved of funny books.

*NOTE: ‘funny’ can here be replaced with ‘trashy’, and the effect is the same. If you go with ‘trashy’ I would recommend some good corset-and-codpiece historical fiction, or else a magazine, if you can find one that doesn’t make you want to stab your eyes out.

true:  Nine Stibbe’s Love Nina

I do like a bit of holiday non-fiction. This book has been the most joyous thing I’ve discovered this year – the journal of a resolutely unimpressed nanny in a houseful of literary celebrities and precocious children. I wanted to start it again the minute I finished, and this weekend I’ll finally have time. (Warning: bohemian households containing Alan Bennett swear a lot.)

Now all I have to do is work out what to do when it’s FORTY DEGREES CELCIUS AT FIVE PM. Apart from weep tears that immediately evaporate into steam. I’m excited! (I’ll also be away from here for the next week. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, lovers.)

16 thoughts on “The secret to choosing the perfect holiday reading

  1. I refer you to this:

    Female customer: Excuse me, have you got a… (Bernard hands her a book) Oh.

    Bernard: (To male customer) One for you too (hands him a book)
    Female customer: How do you know what we want?

    Male customer: We don’t like the same sort of stuff anyway.

    Bernard: You’re going on holiday. You want trash. But you want different kinds of trash. (To female customer) You’re a woman, you want social themes, believable characters. (To male customer) You, you want plots, suspense. This’ll do you both.

    Female customer: Hmm…

    Bernard: (holds up another copy of the book) There’s this temp, right? She’s 29, she can’t get a boyfriend, oh my god.

    Female customer: Sounds great!

    Male customer: No, no way.

    Bernard: And she’s got 12 hours to stop nuclear war with China.

    Male customer: Great!

  2. Good list! I am currently limiting my reading to anything I can get on my phone (inc. Kindle app) with one hand, whilst holding a baby to my chest with the other 🙂
    Did you hear the recent BBC radio version of Mansfield Park, with David Tennant & Benedict Cumberbatch? I think the second half is still on iPlayer.

    • Oh yes, that sounds very familiar! Sitting down to feed without having a smartphone within reach was always the worst thing ever 🙂

      I saw it on iPlayer and SO wanted to listen to it, but the first episode was already gone – and I hadn’t read it so didn’t want to spoil the story. I really hope they repeat it!

  3. I totally love my iBooks app. I have the entire (to date) Outlander series on it, 7 books at 1,100+ pages each that I would submit qualify for the old, new, funny and trashy parts of the list!

  4. Lucky you going away with such a fab pile (presumably without any wee ones?!) The Love Nina one sounds brilliant! i love Agatha too. Have a great time at your brother’s wedding. Try and restrain yourself when they ask “any objections” from shouting, “but he’s SIX!”

    • Haha, Jess, it was incredibly tempting 🙂 Yes, I went by myself – weird, but oh, what a glorious plane journey. And a week of full nights’ sleep! Was desperate to get back to them by the end, though. Thanks so much for the comment!

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