Up to speed on summer reads

provides a foolproof guide to holiday literature

For some of us, a three-month holiday spells many weeks of lying on a beach, replete with Pina Coladas and tapas. For others, it might be crunch time; your degree has finished and there’s no grad job in sight, you’re heavily into your overdraft and need all the hours your hometown bar job can offer to salvage a few pennies. Maybe you think this year is the one in which you’ll finally meet the love of your life, whilst trekking in the foothills of a far-off mountain (a girl can dream). Whatever your plans, I’ve devised the ultimate guide to reading this summer, with a book recommendation for every type of holiday-maker.

For the overpacker- the person who hasn’t got much room in their suitcase.

This year’s summer blockbuster On Chesil Beach is based on the novella by Ian McEwan. It’s a slim little book, less than 200 pages, perfect for squeezing in between that extra just-in-case outfit which you definitely don’t need. Set in 1962, On Chesil Beach is the delicately woven story of two young honeymooners who are, as the opening line explains “both virgins on this, their wedding night”. The wonderfully observant exploration of the couple’s attempts to wrangle with this new chapter of their relationship makes for a beautiful read and a suitably light accompaniment to any holiday with a baggage restriction. Even shorter is Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea. At only 127 pages it is a poignant short story about a fisherman, an allegory of self-discovery perfect for any wandering soul.

For the grumpy waitress- the person who hates their summer job.

There is nothing worse than being stuck in a dull job while it’s sunny outside and everyone you know is abroad. Bossypants is the autobiography of actress, writer and comedian Tina Fey and is guaranteed to lift your spirits and remind you that you will achieve more in your life than the slightly average customer service work you’re currently doing, as she charts her transformation from geeky teen to household name. I’m generally an exclusive fiction reader but Fey’s account of her personal journey to her current success is genuinely uplifting and entertaining, the ideal companion for anyone stuck in a less than desirable profession.

For the gap yah intellectual- the person who wants to impressive other backpackers.

Nothing gets a bit of lively conversation going in a hostel dormitory more than a competition over who’s read the most challenging, enlightening book. There’s the obvious choices- War and Peace, 1984, The Great Gatsby, all of which are fine picks, but if there’s one title that’s going to shut everyone up it’s Ulysses. Often topping any list of ‘books you started but never finished’ or ‘books you meant to read’, James Joyce’s modernist classic will get you a nod of admiration from your fellow volunteers in the elephant sanctuary you’ve selflessly given your time to. Make this summer the year that you do the impossible and get to page 730.

For the reluctant traveller- the person who wants to block out the people they wish they hadn’t come on holiday with.

We’ve all been in this situation; the friend you were sure you’d have an amazing time sharing a room with is actually a slob and you can’t bear her, two weeks with your family has proven far too long, the hotel that looked fine online has turned out to be little short of Guantanamo Bay in terms of appearance and amenities. Now more than ever you need a book that will engross and transport you. He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly was the book that I couldn’t put down last summer. Kit and Laura witness a terrible crime and testify as witnesses in the court case, a decision which will come back to haunt them 16 years later. This thriller guarantees to make your surroundings pale into insignificance as you follow the disturbing and addictive plot.

For the armchair tourist- the person who can’t quite be bothered to go travelling but likes the idea.

A new release by David Nicholls is a long-awaited thing, met with excitement, praise and fantastic sales, and Us was no exception. In his 2014 novel Nicholls follows the Petersen family on their interrailing travels. After being told by his wife that their marriage is over, Douglas is determined that this holiday will unite their family, stop Connie from leaving, and rebuild his fractious relationship with his son Albie. As their journey takes them through many European cities, each one described as vibrantly as the next, the family’s cracks begin to grow. Simultaneously hilarious in its eye for minute detail and familial interaction, and breathtakingly sad in its presentation of  slowly disintegrating relationships , Us is the perfect way of experiencing a bit of foreign culture without having to leave the comfort of home.

For the hopeless romantic- the person who’s looking for love in Ibiza

It’s time to ditch the chick flicks this year and go old school with the romantic novels. I’m a strong believer that 19th and 20th century love stories provide a much more astute depiction of dating than the sleek sophisticated lives of the characters in 21st century poolside reads. Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse shocked French society when it was first published in 1954 when Sagan was just 18. At once salacious and elegant, it tells the story of a heady summer in the south of France where Cecile, who is holidaying with her father, falls in love with a much older man. This is the antidote to the typical slushy paperbacks that one too many romantics will be getting through and is sure to shake up their normal reading list.

For the vampire- the person who hates the sun

There’s always one person who burns at the mere sniff of a UV ray, who spends most of their summer hiding indoors, living in fear of an unattractive tan line. The eternal winter of C.S. Lewis’s childhood classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is sure to send a chill through anyone’s bones and transport you to a colder climate. Although winter is vanquished in the end, this is the ultimate anti-summer novel. Alternatively, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is the perfect place to turn for a wintery return to a nostalgic reading experience.

For the tightwad- the person who scrimps and saves, even on holiday

First off, get a Kindle. It might seem like a splurge, but you will save so much money in the long run if you’re a big reader. Most books are at least a couple of pounds cheaper in electronic format than paper, and any book which is now out of copyright is free. That means that Dickens, Austen, the Brontës, and Hardy are all available for absolutely nothing. They’re also all fairly lengthy tomes so will keep you going all summer long. Plus, Kindles are light so you won’t have to be paying any extra baggage charges for all those hardbacks you’d otherwise be cramming into your suitcase. Alternatively, Into The Water by Paula Hawkins is only £3.99 in paperback on Amazon at the moment, an absolute bargain for the Sunday Times Number One Bestseller.

For the over-keen student- the person who misses learning when they’re not at uni

While there’s no shame in spending three months knee deep in Sangria, anything that stops you completely turning off your brain over the summer is great. Biology meets philosophy in Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life. Peter Godfrey explores the evolution of consciousness in this quirky but brilliant analysis of octopuses and their similarities to the human mind. It was shortlisted for the 2017 Royal Science Book Prize and is ideal for anyone wanting to learn something new this holiday. Our other favourite is Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Tipped as the book that “sparked national conversation” this is essential reading for anyone wanting to learn more about the current crisis of race relations in the Western world.

For the anti-bookworm- the person who manages one book each summer

If you’re only going to read one thing this year, let it be Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. This is a book which, in our current political climate, everyone needs to be familiar with. Shortly after meeting and falling in love, Saeed and Nadia are forced to begin their journey to safety through a war-torn country, filled with refugees, that rebels are about to take over. Hamid draws both a poetic love story, laced with aspects of magic realism, and a powerful meditation on the migrant crisis together, as he traces Saeed and Nadia’s search for political and personal safety.

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