Although the e-reader has diminished the problem of which books to take along on your holiday, the choice can still be tough. I hope to help you with this personal selection of books that will help you enjoy your holiday.
Summer has arrived with a vengeance: from the coldest spring ever we have jumped to tropical temperatures. This requires novels that are slightly demanding, not too complicated.
John Irving || World According to Garp
I realize that my first choice might not be the most logical one. I have added Garp since it is one of the funniest and most emotional novels I’ve ever read. I forgive it for being demanding and complicated in more than one way: its out of the box characters, jumping from laughing my head off to being in tears and its outcry for tolerance. I loved Garp when I first read it and my old, worn-out copy has been read by many people. Nowadays it no longer leaves my bookcase: it’s too fragile and has been signed by Irving himself. It’s one of those precious things I hope not to forget in case of fire.
Roddy Doyle || The Commitments
Extremely funny, loud-mouthed, no decent job prospect but the definite guts to create one’s own chance: meet Jimmy Rabbitte, manager of The Commitments, the weirdest band alive ever. Irish, packed full of soul music and ending in disaster when all the loud-mouths finally start tearing into each other. The Commitments is the first novel Doyle wrote on the family Rabbitte and as far as I am concerned it is by far the best.
Karin Joy Fowler || The Jane Austen Book Club
In The Jane Austen Book Club a varied group of people gathers every week to discuss a Jane Austen novel. It being an American novel the gatherings are used to talk about love, grieve, life, work, family and friends, etc. etc. If you’re looking for some serious discussion on Austen you’ll be disappointed. If you’re the mood for a well-written feel good movie that does not exert you too much, Fowler will do nicely.
Graeme Simsion || The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect
If you’re a scientist with Asperger you might find Don Tillman’s method for finding a wife perfectly reasonable. All others join the ranks of those who look upon Tillman with a mix of tenderness and amazement. His list of requirements for a wife is endless, fortunately for him his friends take things into their hands and have him meet Rosie. Two extremes meet and end up being perfect for each other in the Rosie Project. Whether they’ll remain happy I do not know, my summer reading includes its sequel the Rosie Effect.
Off to another world or time
While reading one is often transported to a different world or time. One of the reasons I got hooked on reading at a young age is that I loved sharing another world or time for a short while. Throughout the years I let myself be taken across the world, back to the past and into the future. Who needs a Tardis when there’s a book?
Jane Austen || Elegance and realism combined
Any of Jane Austen’s novels will take you back some 200 years in time. Looking for a perfect husband might seem outdated to us, independent women of the 2100, the way Austen writes about it makes us long for our own mister D’Arcy: witty, elegant and full of comment on her own time and customs. Jane Austen made her heroines fall for the perfect gentleman of their time, while making sure that her readers understood that the heroines had little choice. We might frown upon the willingness of Elizabeth Benning to fall in love with a man she at first despise, we are not the ones having to live an old maid’s life by lack of the perfect husband.
In 2014 two variations on the theme were published: Joanna Trollope almost hit the mark with a pleasant though just not witty enough re-write of Sense & Sensibility, Jo Baker gave us a view into the world of the servants of the Bennets. I will never look the same at Elizabeth soaking and muddying her clothes knowing what it’ll take to get them clean again.
Arthurian Legends || On brave men and woman
As a teen I got sucked into the Arthurian world. I finished my study of English literature with an end paper on modern versions of the Arthurian matter. The ones that got me hooked as a teen were TH White’s Once and Future King and Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff. The first a fantasy transporting Arthur through times (meeting Robin Hood was rather time-challenged) and even shapes, experiencing life as an ant or a bird. I loved the world White created, knowing very well that the chance of there being such an Arthur was fairly small. Sutcliff delivered the one that could easily have lived: the war commander travelling through the harsh world of 5th century Britain trying to create a better world for his people and himself.
Just after receiving my diploma two novels were published that shed a new light on the Arthurian matter: Mary Stewart added The Wicked Day to her Merlin Trilogy in which for once Mordred was a really nice guy, as much a victim of circumstance as his father. Marion Bradley renewed the story by making her Arthurian novel all about Morgana. Hard to imagine now, remarkable at the start of the eighties.
In 2015 two novels were added to the Arthurian Matter: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and Mary Phillips The Knights of the Lesser Table. In The Buried Giant Ishiguro combined fantasy and chivalry, in it good old Gawain was given the send off this loyal Arthurian knight deserved. Being a sucker for anything Arthurian I loved it; I suspect those readers looking for another Pale Views of Hills or Remains of the Day were slightly disappointed. Marie Phillips turned her Arthurian novel into a comedy, gently commenting on some of the things we take for granted. Her knights of the Round Table were vain and only looking out for number 1, her real heroes were the ones in the background doing their utmost to change the world slightly for the better.
Fantasy || David Mitchell or Michel Faber
I am definitely not a fan of fantasy, Mitchell and Faber did manage to transport me to different worlds and times however. They combined a dash of fantasy and science fiction with some classy writing making me look over the fact that I was reading about people sucking the energy out of their victims or some very creepy aliens indeed.
Looking for some excitement
During the lovely dull days of summer, some excitement – on paper – can be just what you need. Here’s what I would choose.
Terry Hayes || I am Pilgrim
I was late to discover I am Pilgrim, once I started reading I was hooked. Hayes has written a well-constructed novel in which the tension increases with every chapter. I had to know how it was going to end; Hayes revealed his information step for step, making the intricate plot even more exciting. I’m hoping for more.
Dorothy L. Sayers and Elizabeth George have given us two amazing detecting couples: Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane and Lord Tommy Lindley and Barbara Havers. Two couples of different personalities with completely different backgrounds who manage to solve crimes superbly. Sayers is – in my humble opinion – the best of the British female detective writers; her plots are intelligent and witty, her characters are far from being one-dimensional. I especially liked the novels in which Wimsey met Vane and started pursuing her. George also provides us with intelligent plots, interesting characters and increasing tension. I spent a summer in Australia getting through her novels, the perfect reading material for a great vacation.
Christopher Brookmyre || Just about everything
I find that you either love or hate Christopher Brookmyre. I love his sarcasme and witty remarks, his plots are always intricate. One should also not be surprised to have Brookmyre express his opinion on government, church or corrupt business men through his books. I am happy Brookmyre is a prolific writer, I hope he keeps on delivering books that make me laugh out loud for a long time. My favourite character is Jack Parlabane, who is to be found adjusting the rules ever so slightly most of the times. I would start with one of the earlier novels, I am afraid you do need some Parlabane knowledge to fully grasp Dead Girl Walking.
The time has come for those novels you’ve been avoiding because of their size. With long weeks ahead and time on your hands, this is your chance to read those hefty volumes.
Hilary Mantel || Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies
What shall I say? There’s a reason Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize for both these novels about court life during the reign of Henry VIII. Mantel brings us drama, romance, war on religion and court politics. Mantel also gives us an insight into a man whose name everybody knew but who through her has been made a man of flesh and blood, Oliver Cromwell. Mantel makes it very clear that a king in want of a heir is prepared to take desperate measures. For those few who have no clue as to what will happen to wifes one, two and three Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies will have you on the edge of your seat.
Eleanor Catton || The Luminaries
Eleanor Catton showed craftsmanship with her Booker Prize winning The Luminaries. Form and content work together in a perfect way. Catton has based her form on the shape of the moon. The first chapter is almost half of the novel, the last one merely half a page. By skipping through time and events Catton manages to link the main characters to each other; The Luminaries feels like reading an intricate puzzle. The novel also shows s a New-Zealand at the beginning of its Western existence: while the Maori stand aside and watch, new arrivals looking for a future, sometimes by hard work, more often by trying one’s luck digging for gold, are portrayed beautifully. Not the easiest novel, definitely worth your while.
Vikram Seth || A Suitable Boy
In this novel, published in 1993, Seth takes us along in the search for a perfect husband. While doing so, he vividly describes India with all its colours and its smells. He also makes it clear that while India is developing, tradition are still to be counted with. A girl might go to university, her marriage to a suitable boy will still be arranged by their parents. A Suitable Boy will provide you with over a 1300 pages and 500.000 words of pleasure.
Alexander McCall Smith || The Nr. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series
I try and read a new sequel to the Nr.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series every year. I love those enjoyable novels about Mma Ramotswa, her family and friends and Botswana. I like reading about her ‘traditional figure’ and her ponderings on a Botswana that has gone and will never return. Nothing really exiting happens in the Nr. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: no bloodshed, exiting chases and the like, just the peace and calm of a small town in Botswana dealing with minor, domestic cases for the only female detective in the country. I’ll order The Handsome Man for my summer reading.
Having worked hard, experiencing stress etc. etc. the best way to start your time off, is a feel good novel. Nothing to worry about, just to dream along with the heroine who faces all kinds of troubles. I give you three of my all time favourites.
Her sense of fun, the fact that she writes pretty well and the ever so British sphere Fforde manages to create make for amusing feel good novels that are absolutely superior to your average Harlequin. I love reading about Ffordes heroines, their husbands to be and am transported to a Great Britain of tea and scones for just a few hours. Nothing to serious about Fforde, just delightful reading. Having read all of her novels I prefer her earlier ones but enjoyed her most recent one without a doubt.
Keys tops Fforde in edginess. Her heroines have to go to rehab and encounter every kind of mishap. Being absolute toughies they manage to scrape through without losing their optimism and Irish sense of (edgy) fun. A typical Marian Keyes has an element of romance but is mostly about modern women making their way through life. Where Jane Austen presented us with the Bennet sisters. Keyes has introduced the Walshes, an absolute fun family. Feel good with an edge and superiority. Her most recent novel is a perfect example of a Marian Keyes.
We all know that a majority of Gregory’s heroines does not end well. Knowing that Anne Boleyn was going to lose her head or Jane Seymour was about to die in childbirth did not diminish my pleasure in reading about them though. Many a British queen came alive through the writing of Philippa Gregory, making me long for more, at the same time being glad that I did not live in those hazardous times. I am delighted that there is a new Philippa Gregory waiting for me to read during the summer.
And if you want to keep on reading those lovely feel good novels, there’s also Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Maeve Binch or Joanna Trollope and of course a great number of chick lit novels.