Every year it’s the same: as the beach hoves into view, there’s a tower of books somewhere in the flat that, like a form of literary jenga, has items removed and others added as the days pass.
This is the holiday reading list and the compilation of it has become a tradition.
There are people who look askance at me and ask why on earth I don’t read on some form of electronic device and thus remove the need to carry books at all.
There are a number of reasons – including my lack of interest in exposing electronic gadgets to the sea, salt, sand etc.
There’s the point that, while I am far from being a luddite when it comes to technology and while I do have a tablet, I actually like books – not just for what they hold within their pages, but for the sheer physical feel and smell and look of them.
And it is most certainly true that, since I spend most of my working days in front of a computer screen, not to spend recreational time reading on another screen!
This year’s reading list is topped – or bottomed, given how the pile is currently constructed – by a collection of the translated works of Spanish poet Antonio Machado.
Machado had to flee Franco’s fascists and made his way over the border into southern France, where he died in Collioure. He was buried in the village cemetery.
It seems like the time to get to grips with such a figure.
Next up, was going to have been Stephen King’s Under the Dome, an 880-page epic.
I ‘discovered’ King back in the early to mid-’80s: I’d injured my back at polytechnic as a result of the actions of someone running a ‘voluntary’ workshop, and some months later been thrown off the course after my family GP signed me off for a week extra at Easter because of the state I was in.
Over the next year or so, I found I could barely read. I’d pick up a book – sometimes something new, sometimes an old favourite – but could rarely get more than a few pages in.
One day, I was browsing a little local bookshop in Lancaster, when I came across some of King’s novels.
I don’t think I’d ever read any horror before – and if you’d asked at the time, I suspect I would have declared that it didn’t appeal to me. But something made me pull Christine off the shelf and decide to buy it.
It was finished in days. The Stand followed. And many more.
When I need a reading boost, I still turn to King.
Last year, I’d had such a need and had bought myself Revival, which I enjoyed. As a result, my parents decided to get me Under the Dome for Christmas. For various reasons, I only got my hands on it just under a fortnight ago – and thought how apt that timing was, as it would make marvelous holiday reading.
It won’t be seeing Collioure.
A couple of days later, going through another slow-reading phase, I picked it up. It was finished in eight days – a rollercoaster of a tale. King really is a master storyteller: he makes it seem impossibly simple, but his stories have complexity and great subtlety and they catch a great deal of truth about the condition of being human.
With that now off the list, I’ve picked up Duma Key to give me another dose of King.
Every year, I try to give myself some ‘serious’ literature to read. I’ve been saying for some time that this would be The Year of Proust – except that it won’t. I need easy reading.
With that in mind, Jonathon Meades’s Museum Without Walls has also now fallen off the list.
What are still there are Anno Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Moriarty The Hound of the D’Ubervilles, both by Kim Newman.
I’ve read his first two Dracula books – and thoroughly enjoyed them – so decided to take the third, plus the Moriarty book, which promises more cultural mash-up fun, and already has me thinking of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (The book. Not the film).
The second volume of Paul O’Grady’s autobiography, The Devil Rides Out, is present on the pile, as is John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.
And then there’s the book I’ve just started, but won’t get anywhere near through before departure later this week.
Back in 1987, I picked up a copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune. I was impressed enough that I bought Dune Messiah, but not impressed by that (I no longer even have it).
On the 50th anniversary of its publication, it seemed the perfect time to give it a re-read – and already I’m seeing and appreciating things I didn’t first time around. It's also possible that the film has managed to remove any sense of the themes of the book from my mind.
Finally, the most recent tome to join the stack is Redemption Ark, the second part of Alastair Reynolds’s Revelation Space trilogy. I don’t mind a bit of space opera and read the first part a few years ago. Since it’s part of The Other Half’s extensive sci-fi collection, it was an easy pick.
And with just over 24 hours to go, that’s the holiday reading sorted. Perhaps …