Amol Rajan: Russian Margarita's just the tonic to make my holiday

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The Independent Online

Back in the days before I wrote columns – the epoch BC, I call it – there was one type of column I used to hate more than any other: the summer reading-list column.

This chunk of vanity and self-regard, usually trotted out in the third week of July, could always be relied upon to tell you nothing about the writer's actual reading, and everything about his or her intellectual pretensions.

Naturally, now that I write the occasional column, I've changed my mind completely, and consider such a column both selfless and necessary, not to say unimpeachable. You should know, dear reader, that I am writing this from beside a pool in a country where it is not raining. In my experience, the main point of holidays is to read as many sentences of over 140 characters long as possible. Working life makes it hard to read long books, and novels especially; so holidays should serve that purpose, ideally while spanning the genres too.

To ease you into it, quick, contemporary books are great for building momentum. I've therefore brought with me Martin Amis's latest novel, Lionel Asbo and, though it was written in 1938, Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun. The other short book is Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy. Sandel is, with Peter Singer, the most important ethicist alive, and his approach to both morality and politics strikes a chord with me.

Any American election year means swotting up on the US Presidency. Simon Schama's "The American Future: A History" and David Remnick's biography of Barack Obama, The Bridge are both ideal. Then there are the books you've started but haven't finished. They tend to relate to work somehow. In this category are David Halpern's The Hidden Wealth of Nations – which I adored when I started it last year – and V S Naipaul's Among the Believers, which my brother recommended.

Finally, every holiday needs its bog-blocker: the big, thumping tome that you'll never read back home. I toyed with Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, and Max Hastings' All Hell Let Loose, but finally plumped for Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, because my knowledge of the author and Russian literature generally isn't what it ought to be.

See? Pretentious, moi? Not a word of it. Vain? You must be thinking of someone else. And just wait until you read Friday's column, on the subject of getting a personal trainer. It's the summer after all – unless you happen to be in England, that is.