School's out, the sun is high, and the summer vacation is calling you with it's lilting, sing-song accent. Hastily, you throw a handful of shoes and clothes into a suitcase, and then you carefully pick your reading material... here are our top five essential summer reads - the books you should pack on EVERY vacation!
NEW NOVEL: something recent, exciting, that fits your mood right now. Browse through the latest publications in your nearest bookshop, or the recently published lists on Amazon. I've stumbled upon some of my all time favourite books this way (The Minotaur takes a cigarette break, bought on impulse before a trip to Crete, which turned out to be an amazing book). Suggestions for 2016: The Swimmer by Joacim Zander, Wool by Hugh Howey, The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne, Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon.
SHORT STORY COLLECTION: because there are times when you want to put the novel down for a few moments, to savour it, and dip your toe into something instantly gratifying. You can read a short story while your partner's in the shower, or with an after-dinner drink. There will be new ideas, sparks of inspiration, different perspectives on life. Suggestions for 2016: Boyfriends by Bonnie West, When Planets Slip Their Tracks by Joanna Campbell, Nobody Will Ever Love You by (ahem, me - A M Howcroft), Kirigami by Lynne Voyce, or Burn Lines by Mark Wagstaff.
NON-FICTION: lifelong learning is a hot topic these days, but whether it is trendy or not, there's something tremendously enjoyable about discovering a new topic in a well written book by an expert. The explosion of popular science writing in the past decade, and the quality of many of those writers, is exceptional, but you don't have to go for science - you could learn about art or falconry, you could brush up on a period of history, or discover the culture of a different part of the world, or explore the way that Shakespeare altered and adapted English language. Suggestions for 2016: When to rob a bank by Levvit & Dubner, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, The Private Life of the Diary by Sally Bayley, Mother of God by Paul Rosolie.
A CLASSIC: it's great to read new work, but there is a reason certain books have been reprinted year after year. Like high fashion, some books dominate an era then fade into obscurity, cast away like a pair of flared jeans. Other's are like a perfectly cut LBD, suitable for any time or special occasion. You may have been damaged with your early school encounters of Lord of the Flies or To Kill a Mockingbird, but picking the right book now could open you to a different world. There is something amazing in reading a book written more than a hundred or so years ago which can speak to you of familiar patterns, fears, or scenarios. It's hard to pick specific classics, as everyone has their own favourite. Suggestions for 2016: A month in the country by J L Carr, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (if you haven't read this, I want to know why!), The sun also rises by Ernest Hemingway, Mrs Dalloway by Virgina Woolf. Or you could check out The Guardian's list of the top 100 English novels, and see which one grabs your attention.
- THE FAT BOOK: what the heck is that, I hear you ask! Well, this is the book that you have avoided reading because it is too big. Too many pages, too small a font, a book that looks like it would take a month to get through the opening chapter. A holiday is the perfect time to start a book like this - you have (hopefully) more reading time than in your daily life, and you will make enough of a start that you will be pulled into its world, encouraging you to continue long after you get home. You may get into a dispute with your partner about the weight and size of this book in your luggage, so I would recommend buying an ebook version (even if you already have the physical copy). If you are really clever, you can combine it with a category above (e.g. Bleak House - a fat book and a classic), leaving space for one of the bonus items below. Suggestions: 2666 by Roberto Bolano, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, A Heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Dune by Frank Herbert, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet.
If you're a serious reader, or a writer then you also need to pack:
- POETRY: perfect for travel, there are plenty of slim poetry books that will slip into a handbag or laptop case. If you're a poetry reader already, then you'll know what suits. If you haven't read any since school, try The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, Boys' night out in the afternoon by Tim Wells, Stolen Love Behaviour by John Stammers, Nine Horses by Billy Collins, or Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes.
- NEW GENRE: you've never read a sci-fi novel, or perhaps crime is a mystery to you (OK, cheap joke back there), or you're terrified of Jane Austen, or elves. You're can't dismiss a genre until you've read a selection of its biggest hits. What have you got to lose?