Holiday Reading. You decide.

Books, Reading By Jun 22, 2010 13 Comments

[It is critical to the success of this post’s title that you read it in the voice of Big Brother. Just saying.]

When it comes to packing for a holiday, I’m very much a last-minute kind of girl. Yes, one of those annoying people who’s still washing and drying clothes the night before and ironing and packing them on departure day itself.

I blame this on books. Or, rather, the fact that it takes me so long to decide which ones to take on holiday, I have very little time left in which to pack everything else.

You see, if I forget a toothbrush, I can always buy that on the way or at my destination. This doesn’t always follow for books and I have a deep-rooted fear that I might not find anything I want to read en route. I can trace this back to the year I spent in Greece, when I had limited access to English books (despite being there to teach the language), and my honeymoon, when I wasn’t allowed to take any with me. Three days in and my husband escorted me to the hotel gift shop, where I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing a glittery and embossed doorstop I’d never normally read at home, in order to keep me – and, more importantly, him – sane for the duration.

Ever since that traumatic experience, I’m allowed to take whatever books I can carry.

The problem, for me, is deciding which ones those are. I don’t need to buy new books to take with me. I have more than enough To-Be-Read’s (TBR). Maybe that’s the problem? If I were more disciplined and didn’t buy so many books, I wouldn’t have such a backlog. Instead, I’d have a manageable number of unread books – 2 or 3 at most – and I could pack them all. (No, it’s okay. Go ahead and laugh. I didn’t even type that with a straight face. It’s never going to happen!)

As it is, my selection process is akin to X-Factor elimination rounds. I pull books off shelves from around the house and put them out in line of sight, making them all Possibles. But there’s a hierarchy, with the ones downstairs having least chance of making it through the qualifying heats. Those which make it upstairs to my office have the best chance, especially the ones closest to my desk, the Probables, and those actually on my desk, the Definites. (Despite the name, that’s still no guarantee of success.) Of course, I spend time moving these books around, discarding some and adding others right up until the day before we leave.

How do I choose what makes the book bag? All kinds of factors come into play. How long am I going for? Do I have to be sociable while I’m there? Am I camping? (Very important to take books I don’t mind being spoiled in this case.) Or am I staying with friends or in a hotel? (If it’s the former, I’ll have less time for reading and should take more short stories and poetry.) How am I getting there? (If it’s by public transport, I’ll have to carry whatever I take, maybe over distance and running to catch a connection, making book weight a factor.) Have I been saving a book that requires the kind of attention I can only give it on holiday? (Step forward a 900+pager like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.) Am I going for a particular theme, subject, author or setting, like where I’ll be staying? (Under a Tuscan Sun in A Room with a View.) Do I want a Classic or Modern? Poetry or Prose? Fiction or Non-Fiction? Fun or Serious? A new author or someone I know and love? (I’ll have one of each, please.)

Then, on the day of departure, I’ll rush back into the house and make a long-neglected novel’s day by snatching it off a shelf and thrusting it too into the book bag. Pure impulse tells me that I have to fetch it because I’d regret leaving it behind. So, this provides a last-minute frisson of excitement, together with the notion that I might have packed a rogue one.

I’m currently filling my Holiday Book Bag (pictured above and snagged from the Guardian’s kiosk at the Hay Festival 2010). I’ll let you know which ones make the cut, and how many of them I actually read, in a future post.

(Note: Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor and The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler aren’t going on holiday this time and have been used for illustration purposes only. You can no doubt hear them tearing their pages out at this injustice.)



  1. Marsha says:

    Right, Kath. You know, you need to get an eReader! Then you can have as many books at your disposal as you like!

    1. kath says:

      That is a great idea! I have put in a request to the Office of Top Tech Toys down the hall. Here’s hoping it gets approved…

  2. I had this same problem before I got my Sony eReader. I used to limit myself to 2 or 3 books to take with me, then figured I could always buy more books when I got where I was going. Now I can take hundreds with me at once, and read to my heart’s content. Sure does lighten the luggage too!

    1. kath says:

      Very good points! I’m not sure why I haven’t checked out eReaders before now. Before I got my iPOD, I used to try and take a selection of CDs (if we were driving) but you could guarantee that I would always want to listen to something I hadn’t brought with me. It’s the same with books – I have to be in the right mood to read them. An eReader would be the ideal solution, plus I could delay choosing the book(s) until I was actually on holiday, which also appeals. Thanks India!

  3. Katie says:

    Lovely post Kath! One of my favourite parts of going on holiday is choosing which books to take. It stems from when I was young and my Mum would let my sisters and I buy one special book a few weeks in advance, just for holiday. I’d be thinking about which one to get for months! I love the fact that being away from home and work means you can fully concentrate on the story.
    I like to mix up my choices and genres too – this year I’m planning to take Emma by Jane Austen (because I’ve never read it), In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (because it’s been recommended to me) and Marian Keyes’ The Brightest Star in the Sky (because holidays need chick lit!).

    1. kath says:

      Thanks Katie!

      What a wonderful idea of your Mother’s and one that’s obviously stayed with you. You clearly put a lot of thought into what books go on holiday with you and that’s quite a range with some great choices. I’ve only read Emma out of the ones you’ve picked but have In Cold Blood among my TBR’s and would love to read some Marian Keyes. I hear such glowing praise of her books.

      I’ll look forward to hearing what you think of them all when you get back.

  4. Hi Kath – I love this post. I fantasise about taking a load of books away with me on holiday – I just wouldn’t get the opportunity to read them (children, young ones). However I will probably take one to read in that five minutes before I collapse exhausted at 8pm : D So far that book looks like being Home by Julie Myerson (as recommended by @Keris (Stainton, of Della says OMG fame). Would you recommend Star of the Sea? Still not got around to reading it!

    1. kath says:

      Hi and welcome! I’m not sure I’d cope too well with only being able to choose one book to take away with me – unless I do what India and Marsha suggest and get an eReader. Then I’d be able to decide when I knew what I was in the mood to read.

      Let me know what you think of Julie Myerson’s book when you get back but anything Keris recommends will be a great read. She knows her stuff.. And I can definitely recommend Star of the Sea. It’s excellent and well worth bumping up the TBR pile.

  5. DJ Kirkby says:

    I don’t know how long you are going on hols but I would suggest at least one non fiction and two regular sized or one extra thick novel per week. I love holiday reading, it’s almost as good as ‘in the bath at the end of the day’ reading 🙂

    1. kath says:

      I’ve been and come back but that’s great advice, Denyse, and I pretty much took what you suggested. And I love guilt-free holiday reading – it’s the one time I don’t feel as if I should be doing something else! While I was away, I came to the conclusion that I don’t read enough non-fiction, so I’ll be including more of that in my reading diet from now on!

  6. Debs says:

    Love this post and can completely relate to it.

    My most important items to pack are my books and the thought of running out of them is too horrible to contemplate. I have so many books in my tbr pile that I always take an age to choose the next one to read, unless I’m reviewing one, then of course I don’t have to think about it.

    1. kath says:

      Welcome to The Nut Press, Debs!

      I did take a couple of review books with me on holiday, which made the choice slightly easier, but I change my mind so often about what I want to read that, no matter how many books I take with me, there’s always a book at home that I get the urge to read while away!

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