I love being on holiday. It’s great to be somewhere new, with different food, climate, scenery… but to some extent it doesn’t matter where I go because the thing I most enjoy doing on holiday is working my way through an enormous pile of books.
As I always have more books waiting to be read than time in which to read them in, holidays give me a good chance to clear the backlog a bit. I like nothing better than total immersion in a book: hours go by, sunburn is ignored, there are no deadlines to worry about, no tasks to be done, nothing to interrupt me. I can become completely absorbed in the world of the novel.
Since turning to writing rather than reading, I’ve become far more interested in the voice of a novel. Nick Hornby is one of those writers with a welcoming, captivating voice, so I snap up anything he produces. The last two I’ve read have been compilations of his columns on the theme of books he’s reading: the Complete Polysyllabic Spree – The Diary of an Occasionally Exasperated but Ever Hopeful Reader, and Stuff I’ve Been Reading. As with all Nick Hornby’s writing, these books are engaging, funny and educational, but..! The result of reading both books is that I’ve ended up with an even more enormous pile of books to read.
In Stuff I’ve Been Reading, Nick explores the young adult genre, and of course I had to snap up any recommendations he had to offer in that arena. So while on holiday, thanks to Nick, I’ve read David Almond’s Skellig – a classic YA book of magical realism/ fantasy; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (who also wrote 101 Dalmations) which is a brilliant coming of age book.
Interestingly enough, because we were on a skiing holiday, I did have to break off from this brilliant book to don equipment and spend a day racing up and down the slopes. What hardship, I hear you say, but the point about this enforced break was having the time to wonder what would happen next. I have to say I did not imagine the ending that did ensue, even though I had most of the day to think about it. I’ve decided this would be a good exercise for the future. When you find yourself nearly the end of a book, just before the denouement if you like, force yourself to abandon it for a day and do nothing else but imagine endings (you can do a bit of skiing and eating chips in the sunshine too if you want). The test of a good book is that the ending will still surprise and delight you. And I Capture The Castle certainly surprised me, in a satisfactory way.

Then I read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. I don’t know if this is meant to be a young adult book – the protagonist is a 16 year old girl who is dying of cancer. It is beautifully executed and totally unputdownable. However for a young adult book about death I don’t think you can beat the latest offering from the totally brilliant Patrick Ness – More than This. It opens with the protagonist dying, and where the author can go from here is unimaginable. I challenge anyone to imagine this ending before it hits you in the chops!

I’ve been struggling a bit recently with the whole idea of dialogue and regional accents, and have to say that Everything You Know, by Zoe Heller, manages to capture both sides of the Atlantic very effectively. Zoe’s protagonists always seem to be very unlikeable, and yet I want to keep reading to see what happens to them. How does she pull this off? (She is also the author of Notes on a Scandal and the Believers.)
Another writer whose dialogue is so spot on and whose voice is unmistakable, is PG Wodehouse, and I devoured a couple of his books, practically in one sitting, before moving on to David Lodge Deaf Sentence.
It’s been a few years since I’ve read any David Lodge. I remember thoroughly enjoying his Campus Trilogy, and Deaf Sentence also has a professor as protagonist – a professor of linguistics this time – very apt for a protagonist who is losing his hearing. I learnt quite a lot about linguistics as a by-product of reading the book, and also felt great empathy for him as he struggled with his aging father who seems to be losing touch with the world. It’s enjoyable on so many levels, as soon as I’d finished it I forced it on to fellow holiday makers.
The final read of the holiday was Epiphany by David Hewson, our next guest at the Highland Literary Salon. I never thought I’d read a thriller/ murder mystery book which has quantum mechanics at the heart of it. I did try to read a book called In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin, many years ago, having been assured that this would tell me everything I needed to know about quantum mechanics.
I remember even now the experience of reading it and thinking, ok I get that, yes I get that, and that.. and then reaching the end of the chapter and thinking, oh no, it’s gone. It was like trying to grasp water. I had a quick look in the bookcase, but Schrodinger has gone – in search of cleverer readers, no doubt. Anyway, Epiphany is an enjoyable read, but I still don’t quite understand the quantum mechanic bits. And the descriptions of taking psychotropic drugs are realistic enough to suggest a mis-spent youth… so I look forward to meeting David in a couple of weeks time!
The majority of these books were carried in the car, in a large box. Yes I do now have a kindle, and no doubt eventually I will travel on holiday with just that device tucked in my handbag. But I’m still wedded to paper, on the whole. Though buying books on kindle is far too easy… frighteningly easy. I’ve accumulated over 100 since Christmas! Most of which are still to be read. Do I feel another holiday coming on?

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