David Lister: The Week in Arts

Summer reading should be pacy and portable

Share
Related Topics

Most of the recommendations in the quality press would send you straight to the excess baggage counter. Together We Stand: Britain, America and the War in North Africa, May 1942-May 1943 is probably a fascinating book; but is it holiday reading? Let's be honest. If someone on the next deckchair was reading that, you'd be pretty brave to interrupt and ask if they wanted to join in a game of beach volleyball.

I looked at all the lists and found my sense of inadequacy growing. But then I came across something amazing, something unprecedented, something breathtakingly honest. The author Ruth Rendell began her recommendations thus: "If summer reading is holiday reading, I can't choose Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story. It's too heavy to carry."

In the long tradition of literary criticism, aesthetic debate and, not least, summer reading recommendations, the phrase "too heavy to carry" is never uttered. It is the sort of phrase to have producers on Front Row or Newsnight Review rush for the smelling salts. It reeks of the mundane, the pragmatic. It suggests a world where there are bags to pack, children to tend to, radios blaring; conditions not always ideal for the detailed study of the Anglo-US alliance in North Africa from 1942 to 1943.

Ruth Rendell has done the unthinkable. She has acknowledged what no one who gives these summer reading recommendations is meant to acknowledge. She has acknowledged that summer reading actually takes place in the summer.

I hope this marks a turning point in summer reading recommendations. Hitherto, there has been a determination to avoid, at all costs, matching books to the environment in which one reads them. Now, perhaps, we can have some lists that give us the best disposable paperbacks, because few books return from holiday in pristine condition. Perhaps we can also have the aesthetic quality of the summer reading lists diluted a little to include thrillers, short stories, humour - the genres that lend themselves to bite-sized chunks of time on the beach.

Mostly, summer reading recommendations are not there to help the harassed holidaymaker. They are there to boost the literary pretensions of the people giving the recommendations, to say: "Look at what I have already read and digested during the winter. Well, you can try and catch up with me, but by the time you've done so, I'll have been through the Booker long list."

But I don't believe even the people writing these lists actually take those art histories and military analyses on holiday. These are street cred lists - not what is actually to be found in the hand luggage. I'll certainly be reading the new biography of Mao - but either before I go on holiday or when I return. Summer reading needs to be something lighter, speedier and available in paperback. So, in honour of the woman who has brought summer reading lists back to reality, this holiday I'll try a Ruth Rendell.

Figaro's stormy marriage

Garsington is a beautiful venue for opera and the perfect setting for Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. The audience can see the elegant gardens stretching beyond the stage and the awning. The serenity of the setting beautifully fits the final scene on stage of reconciliation in the garden in the splendid current production, above.

Except that when I went on Tuesday, the heavens opened and the thunder crashed. The singers in the second half could sometimes not be heard, such was the noise from the skies. The edges of the stage, exposed to the elements, were treacherous. Figaro, half hiding in a barrel for one scene, wisely decided to put the barrel on his head to keep off the rain. And then, as the thunder exploded and forked lightning lit up the Oxfordshire sky, the surtitles flashed up on the screen the singers' words: "All is peaceful, all is calm." Never has a line in a Mozart opera got such a laugh. It was, Garsington's owner Leonard Ingrams told me, the worst weather they had ever had. But it made for one of the most dramatic evenings I have experienced.

* The column called "Cultural Life", that runs on a Friday in The Independent, gives revealing insights into the cultural habits - and the cultural lapses -- of the great and the good.

The philosopher and author Alain de Botton revealed in a recent column that he had not been to the theatre for five years, adding that this was "shameful".

I suspect that he used the word tongue-in-cheek. If he had really thought it shameful, he would surely have done something about it.

But it is indeed strange that a philosopher can go for five years without attending an art form where the problems of existence are regularly debated, dramatised and laid bare.

Mr de Botton would not, I am sure, have admitted to not reading a book for five years. So why is it ok for an intelligent person not to go to the theatre for five years?

It isn't. It is, in the truest sense of the word, shameful.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Elton John and David Furnish finalise their marriage paperwork  

Don't be blinded by the confetti — the fight for marriage equality in the UK isn't over yet

Siobhan Fenton
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'