There is a newspaper feature which comes round every year in late spring, usually called "Summer Reading" or "Books for the Beach". There is one thing that unites all these reading advice spreads, and that is that there is never any back-up service later on. These people tell us what they are going to take to the beach to read, and we never find out what they thought. No one from the newspaper rings them up later and says, "Well? Did you enjoy your choices? Do you regret any of your tips? Did you end up throwing them all aside and borrowing someone else's ...?"
So today I am going to make a small bit of history. Although I have never been asked to contribute to a "Holiday Reading" feature, I am going to tell you what books I took away on my recent break in Spain and what I thought of each one. Yes, I am. I am sorry, but there it is.
I did not take away with me my current reading book, Noel Coward's diaries, because it is too big and heavy and besides, I was enjoying it too much and I was afraid that if I took it with me I would rush through the rest in one big splurge.
So the day before I left I visited a second-hand bookshop and bought a book of pieces by Thurber called Credos and Curios, and a Bernard Shaw paperback containing "The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God" and other stories. I bought the Thurber because you are meant to adore him and I never have, so it was time to give him another chance. I bought the Shaw because I hadn't read the Black Girl's Search for a long time and wanted to again. I made a mistake on both counts. The Thurber book was a posthumous collection put together by Mrs Thurber, full of deservedly forgotten pieces of dross. The Black Girl was still good but the other stuff wasn't, so I left them both in my Barcelona bedroom and bought an Ian Rankin called Blood Count. This I much enjoyed while the situation was being established and the atmospheric Edinburgh background sketched in. It was when the story took over, that I began to struggle; as the increasingly tortuous plot began to take over, I lost more and more interest and barely made it to the end alive ...
When we got to our borrowed holiday home near Murcia, I was delighted to find bookshelves full of modern fiction, something I very rarely read. I started off with the first novel of Nigel Williams's Wimbledon trilogy, East Of Wimbledon, and quite enjoyed it, especially as it was written at a time when you could still write knockabout comedy about Muslims without seeming to be daring.
After that I tried a novel by Stephen Fry called The Liar, the first of his I have ever read. The cover was full of quotes from people who had choked to death laughing at it. I hardly managed a chuckle. I found it a deeply unpleasant, adolescently cocksure, childishly corrupt show-off of a book, very clever in the way that some women are stunningly attractive, ie so knowingly and self-consciously so that you are left totally unattracted.
And then I thought I would tackle Life Of Pi by Yann Martell, which I had not tried before and which I found compulsive. If the Stephen Fry book had almost no female characters in it, the main body of the Martell novel has almost no humans of either sex apart from the narrator. Just him and the animals, in a weird mixture of magic realism and Dangerous Things For Boys To Do.
And I had got as far as Chapter 78 when I received a terrible shock. It was time to go home and leave the book behind. So I now have to find another copy and resume at Chapter 79, but not till I have finished reading Noel Coward's diaries, with which I have meanwhile been happily reunited.
PS I also asked my wife what she had read on holiday, but it turned out she was so busy working on writing her third novel that she read nothing. Hmmmm ...Reuse content