When you’re packing to go on holiday, is your priority the reading list? It is for me; if I’ve got a weight limit it’s always a source of anxiety whether I’m going to exceed it, or have to risk RUNNING OUT OF THINGS TO READ. If this describes your mindset, then welcome. This blog is for you. And I’ve just thought of one good thing about having to take virtual summer holidays this year – no weight limit! You can take as many books as you like!
I’m going into full flight fantasy here now. Why not set up a wee nook in the corner of your abode for a week or two and pretend you’re lying on a beach… and just read? No? Well it was an idea.
Anyway, whatever happens over the next few weeks, I assume our summers are not going to be all that we would like, and so I’ve devised a reading list which will make it up to you.
My criteria; the book has to be set somewhere lovely, somewhere you want to be transported virtually this summer. It should give you some escapism. It should be gripping but ultimately uplifting, and hopefully – for just a short time – make you think you are in a better place. So no pandemics, no claustrophobia or being trapped. (For instance, although it’s a great book, Room by Emma Donoghue isn’t on the list, and regretfully I’m having to leave out the best book of the year so far – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, because of plague and death, though if you have stronger sensibilities then get this book. It is beautifully evocative of place as well.)
- Skios by Michael Frayn. This is set on a fictional greek island, where a suitcase mix up at baggage reclaim leads to some hilarious capers. (With the added bonus of reminding you of the downside of air travel).
- Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson. This non-fiction account of Bryson’s 1991’s travels around Europe, retracing his earlier Interrail adventures with his friend Katz, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, and for your virtual beach read, has the added bonus of taking you all round Europe without having to leave the safety of your home.
- Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Set in Lyme Regis, Dorset during the early 19th century, this tale of female fossil hunters is truly engaging, and the setting is wonderful. If you’ve read Girl With a Pearl Earring, you will know how brilliant Chevallier is at evoking place (and if you haven’t read it, and would like to be transported to 17th century Delft, then add this to your pile).
- Call of the Undertow by Linda Cracknell. Not exactly the tropics – this book is set on the northern shores of Scotland, but it does evoke the wild empty spaces and certainly makes me yearn for cliff walks on a windy day. You’ll lose yourself in this wonderful story of cartographer Maggie escaping from Oxford to a new life.
- Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan. 1830s Arabia is the setting this time, where Zena from Abyssinia must cross the desert with her new owner. Definitely a good beach read.
- The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This would definitely be a book worth packing because it is huge, so it’ll last you, and it’s page turning and gripping and takes you to Cornwall and Australia, and it never seems to rain. But best of all, it’s so well put together; for me it’s a perfect example of how to write a book with multiple time lines.
- Northern Lights Trilogy by Phillip Pullman. I think this is an ideal time to escape into the parallel universe world of Philliip Pullman. Witches and hot air balloons and armoured polar bears and daemons. Could anything be better?
- Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Small French villages, chocolatiers… be transported. I almost didn’t include it because it is a little claustrophobic in some ways, but for all the Francophiles out there – it’s the next best thing to actually being there, non?
- For real escapism and lovely settings, you can’t beat Alexander McCall Smith. The Number One Ladies Detective Agency has it all, and a mystery to solve as well (without any real horror or unpleasantness).
- Quiet by Susan Cain. A very readable bit of non-fiction to finish up with. The sub-title is ‘The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, and this is for all your readers out there who secretly quite like being told not to leave your house or socialise. Ever wondered why you hated small talk? Parties? It’s all in here.