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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee