Virginia Barton

20 August 2014: Holiday reading


20 August 2014


A week or three ago the newspapers were full of what the celebs put in their suitcases for hols. Which Skin Rescue do you take? What’s your Top Tip for an upset tum when you’re abroad? Which essential piece of clothing do you pack? With whom do you travel? Which book are you taking, and is it an e-book or a real one?

UrlaubI was particularly interested in the last question, specially as 8 out of 10 respondents opted for e-books. It makes sense as you can take a dozen at least in the space of about 8 x 6 inches, weighing no more than 12 ozs, as against a dozen small “real” paperbacks weighing approx. 5 pounds and measuring about 5 x 9 x 7 ins!


You may say that’s hardly fair as no-one would take a dozen books on hols; well, my Mum would have done and so would my sister, but they only ever travelled by car, ship or train where luggage was no problem. They eschewed flying as an anathema and I must say they had a point. The romance has gone out of flying, it is now merely a necessary means of getting somewhere overseas quickly.

(Would you agree that river travel is the most romantic, provided it doesn’t tip down with rain every day? You can take heaps of “real” books if you fancy, and board games and bottles of wine and jig-saws! One of my best hols was on a longboat on the Thames when a friend cooked in the totty kitchen, her husband did the mechanics and I sat in the prow all day long observing the slowly passing landscape in glorious sunshine.)


The subject of this Commonplace is what will you, what did you, take on holiday to read? What were your criteria? “Weatherproof” books, i.e. independent of rain/cold? Very long books to “last”? “Easy Reads”, or humour? The latest novels? And was it an e-book or paper?

Thrillers are ideal holiday fodder: enough plot and excitement to engage you but not so serious you can’t leave them behind for someone else to read in the longboat, villa or beach hut.

I favour a very long re-read myself, on my Kindle; Dickens, Tolstoy or Henry James. I never got my head round puzzles, be they crosswords, card games or sudoku; had I done so I might have said with Lady Catherine de Bourgh:

“If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”


sienkiewicz 2BH, in the unlikely event of his going on holiday, would take three very long books: the magnificent historical novel Trilogia by Henryk Sienkiewicz (that’s him at right, by Kazimir Mordasewicz), who wrote Quo Vadis and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I know Trilogia is magnificent because I read it myself in a translation by Jeremiah Curtain (now there’s a name to conjure with).

Always compared to Dumas, Sienkiewicz has more depth and less froth; plenty of humour but also sadness. The last part of the trilogy describes the tragic death of one of the heroes.

Never one for Outdoors, BH would sit in the villa/hotel/rented house (certainly not a tent…) and re-read Trilogia for the umpteenth.


Don’t imagine I’ve finished with The Ancestor. She is either on holiday herself — in France, of course — or behind the screen at the Punnet. She will return.





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