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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.
It's been a diverse career. Not many people have written for Allure and (the late-lamented...) Gourmet mag.
I've been a magazine editor, an op ed columnist on a broadsheet newspaper, and for years covered the fashion shows in Paris, Milan etc.
But while I shifted between the worlds of food, fashion and current affairs, there was one overriding passion: books.
Now I write them - five novels published, with another due out this year, and several books of journalism.
Here I write about them.