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Thursday, July 1, 2010


In just over a week I’m off for a Proper Holiday. Well, I hope it will be that, which for me means days and days lying on a sunlounger reading. So it’s crucial to take the right books.
My benchmark for holiday reading satisfaction is a camping trip I went on with my best friend when I was 17. I packed six classic early 20th century novels, enriching my mind more in that single fortnight than in years of education.

It was a wonderful experience, like going to an ashram of reading. Total immersion. I can still remember exactly what I read:

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
1984, George Orwell
Animal Farm, George Orwell
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Quiet American, Graham Greene

What a glorious orgy. And I know exactly how I assembled the list – trawling through the family bookcases.

We have a collective fetish for Penguin books, as a result of my maternal grandfather buying them all, literally, from book one. So we grew up surrounded by orange spines, and by the time I was 17, the house was simply stuffed with paperbacks from the Penguin stable.

The association had been deepened by my sister winning a Penguin Classics competition to name the 100 most important books of all time. The prize was a copy of each of them.

Then, when I was ten, I won a Puffin Club competition and got to spend a week with fellow bookworms in a country house in the Malvern Hill, meeting famous children’s authors – and the great Kay Webbe herself. Probably the most important week of my life.

With a little diverted to Barbie clothes, I spent all my pocket money extending my own library of books, which had to be Puffins. It hated having to buy Methuen to add Winnie the Pooh to my collection.

We were brand-obsessed before marketing had been properly invented. (So imagine the collective family satisfaction when I came to be published by them… I could feel my late grandfather smiling down upon me.)

By this point in the mid-1970s when I was off to Brittany, we were particularly obsessed by the ones with the grey spines: the Modern Classics.

So that was where I went to find my holiday reading. I chose the ones with grey spines which looked most interesting and, as a system, it did not let me down. (They don't all seem to be published by Penguin now, but they were then.)

But what shall I take with me this time? And how many? There’s nothing worse than not taking enough books and being forced to spend the last precious reading days with ragged copies of left-behind Jeffrey Archers.

Also maddening when you take a big pile of books you think you ‘ought’ to read – severely restricting clothing space in suitcase – only to discover once you get there, that you hate them all.

Now I know I could prevent both these eventualities by embracing the e-book in some form, but I’m just not ready to do that yet. I can’t imagine it being comfortable to hold an electronic gadget on my knees in the heat.

Also, a holiday for me, means being away from a bright screen; that’s what I spend my whole life staring at.

But, as Joan Armatrading says – I’m open to persuasion. So I would be very interested to hear about your experiences of the various kinds of electronic books.

And in your suggestions for my holiday reading.


  1. Far from the classics Maggie, but if you enjoy the odd page-turner in the crime genre (always good when you want to stay glued to a banana lounge), try Donna Leon's detective series set in Venice. Her stories focus on Commissario Brunetti and strike a nice balance between the Venetian lifestyle, with food descriptions scattered throughout and the requisite crime and investigation. Happy Holidays!

  2. A couple more thoughts:

    Ever tried Kate Atkinson? Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one I enjoyed quite a while ago now.

    Since then she's moved into the crime genre, but a bit different to your stock standard stuff - with the chief protagonist Jackson Brodie. The books thus far are:

    -Case Histories
    -One Good Turn
    -When will there be good news?

  3. Spare Room - Helen Garner (beuatiful spare aching book)
    How The Light Gets In - MJ Hyland (now in penguin orange!!)
    Breath - Tim Winton
    Truth - Peter Temple (crime but GOOD)
    Indelible Ink - Fiona Mcgregor
    The Family Law — Benjamin Law(funny)
    After America - John Birmingham (OK i haven't read it as it came out today but I will)

  4. Thanks Maggie, as a fellow booklover I really identify with today's blog (especially suitcase space)! I am really loving the new $10 Penguin Classics collection (I'm in Sydney but I think they started them in the UK too), I might never have read Love in a Cold Climate, Kingdom of Heaven or Handful of Dust otherwise.
    I am currently reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, I'm really enjoying it, a book about a book appeals to me as a booklover and lover of history.
    I've also read and loved all 3 of Chelsea Handler's books this year (the US comedian with a talkshow on the channel E!), but they probably don't appeal to everyone, she is extremely crude. I laughed at some of her stories (which often involve her making up ridiculous lies) harder than I can remember ever in any book.
    I've also recently enjoyed Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin), possibly because I love San Francisco, but also because it just gives an interesting window into a different period and different lifestyles (1970s setting, gay and straight characters).

  5. Maggie I am an e-book addict. Also love reading books but when life gets really busy the e-book is something you can listen to while exercising, cooking, sweeping leaves etc. My house looks immaculate since embracing the e-book! I also enjoyed listening to books while on a recent holiday in Bali - just sat by the water with my hat over my face and drifted into story land. My palette is probably not as sophistocated as you but I love the Diana Gabaldon series - Outlander read by Davina Porta. You can sample the sound at

  6. Aha! I'm perfectly placed to advise you, having just come back from a week of sun lounging and reading. My tactic (due to lack of funds) was just to take whatever was on my bookshelf that I hadn't read. The enforced reading time of a holiday usually means I read books I might not have persevered with in 10 minutes bursts on buses. I've certainly never bought into buying trashy books just for the beach.

    But this time, I discovered that I needed a break between serious books. After reading Disgrace by JM Coetzee and Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham, I couldn't face any of the others I'd brought. I ended up having to borrow the execrable 'Wife in the North' from a friend. It felt like a waste of reading time, but it did give me a day of light reading that I needed before getting back into another book. I can't recommend that book, but I definitely do recommend taking something lighter - but not trashy or bad - to read between 'serious novels'.

    The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell was the next book I read. WARNING - it's fat, heavy, has very small type and the prose in the first book in insanely dense and off-putting. Also nothing much happens and it seems like it's just an exercise in showy-off pretentiousness. But then, in the second book, everything turns on its head and it gets better and better. So good that I eschewed all the movies on the plane home so that I could carry on reading. So that's my qualified recommendation.

    A couple of good books I've read recently:
    The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
    Suite Francaise- Irene Nemirovsky

    And on holiday my friend was reading White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which she said was really good...

    Oh, and I totally agree with the above person who recommended Kate Atkinson's crime books. They're brilliant.

  7. I had a wonderful reading experience earlier this year - three fabulous books in a row and then I wondered, "Where to from here?"

    The books I enjoyed were 'Last Night in Twisted River' by John Irving (I am a huge Irving fan and have all the time in the world for his details)There is one scene in particular that is like a punch in the guts - Irving takes me by surprise in a way few authors can.

    The second book was 'Loving Frank' by Nancy Horan - amazing, insightful and an ending that leaves you speechless.

    Lastly, 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak - it took a bit to get into it but once I was there I can easily say that this is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I have read in a very long time. Months later, I am still thinking about the characters.

    In regards to e-readers, I LOVE my Kindle but I never bought it as a book replacement, just a library supplement. I still buy books (lots of them) but I also buy e-books. It fits in my handbag and it's nice to know I have a hundred books at hand. The screen is anti-glare and really is just like looking at a page. That said, I've never dared to take it to the beach...not sure that Kindles and sand would mix.

    Happy holiday!

  8. House of Mirth -Edith Wharton-you have probably read it but I could read it a hundred times.

    I would love to read Tales of the City again. Perfect opportunity.

    The Mandelbaum Gate- Muriel Spark. Curious mystery set in Jerusalem and Jordan. You will love Freddy.

    The Summer After the Funeral-Jane Gardham
    Heathcliff, an empty boarding school, Yorkshire moors, old aunts, vicars daughters, first crushes

    Prep- Curtis Sittenfeld
    Waspy university, not fitting in, campus angst

    Away- Amy Bloom
    escaping Russian pogroms, emigrating to America, a mother's search for a lost child- but not depressing at all, very entertaining
    (and anything else by Amy Bloom)

    Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education- Sybille Bedford
    I am always banging on about this. Perfect.

    Bonjour Tristesse- Sagan
    good to read in a chic French summer setting

  9. I love coincidences ...I'm currently pondering what book to take on my cruise (my first) in the August ....I'm also open to suggestion!

    And I must say I'm still laughing and so so so with you ...on dressing over 50 ...I'm half way to 60 and will NOT go down without a fight ...I'm thinking of donning a kimono ...undone of course over almost anything shoes ...with anything ...and bangles I seem to be turning a bit gypsy frankly and I'm loving it!

  10. Thank for all your suggestions. Have read a good many of them already, so nice to know we are singing from the same score etc etc.

    The Spare Room by Helen Garner (suggested by Anon) was probably my fave book of last year. Highly highly recommend.

    Of Human Bondage (Catriona) = one of the books that changed my life. Read it at 15 and was bowled over by the emotional power of it.

    Partic thanks to Decoratrix - who told me about Prep a couple of years ago and I loved it.

    As her other suggestions - Summer After Funeral, Bonjour Tristesse and Jigsaw - are 3 of my favourite books, I am about to order all the others you suggest right NOW.

    Maggie xxx

  11. First up - get a kindle. You will never run out of books again. I was against it and now am converted.

    My recommendations are:

    Crime: Michael Robotham- Shatter
    Classic best of the decade - The Road - Cormac McCarthy
    Thrilling and tea dressy - Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Maurier
    Australian - anything you haven't yet read by Tim Winton
    Weird - Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
    Graham Greene you may not have read - End of the Affair.

  12. Have just read 'Mr Rosemblums List' - a delightful holiday read, made all the better for the beautiful cover which i love to look at on my bedside table! Not able to take the next step to e - reading quite yet.........KG