There's an art to choosing the perfect holiday read. It has to be something big, so you don't have to make too many decisions about what to start on after you've finished it, but it can't be too grim or it won't match the tone.
One year, my family had our holiday on Fiji blighted by a grippingly detailed book about London's black plague. After my mother found it at a bar, she declared it the most macabre thing she'd ever read and gave it to my father, who devoured it with glee. I picked it up after he was finished with it, and then we all lay in hammocks on the beach and talked about buboes, sewers and infectious rat-fleas while the tropical birds sang and the heat shimmered off the sand. It was... inappropriate.
This website has provided some great tips on summer reading for the slightly obsessive-compulsive. It matches classic books with bikinis, so your book can blend in when you place it face-down across your chest for a sleep in the sun. As you can see, it's encouraging my ongoing David Foster Wallace phase, but it also features highly appropriate beach-reading fare like Yann Martel's Life of Pi, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.
Incidentally, did you know Dale Carnegie of How to Win Friends and Influence People had a wife? She refers to herself as Mrs Dale Carnegie on the cover of her book, How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead. The bikini suggested to match her book is called the "Lady Lace," and you bet it's about as subtle as a quadruple gin and tonic.
Crime and Punishment has been matched with a bikini that the average girl would probably need two close friends and a crochet-hook to get into, reflecting its labyrinthine plot. The holidays are a good time to get into a book that's heavy and complicated like this, just because you have a bit more mind-space available than normal. Most of my battle with the Lord of the Rings series took place on beaches around Northland- I alternated it with Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, which, on reflection, might have been a bad idea.
Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, the BBC’s satisfyingly chunky A History of the World in 100 Objects and political tomes like the new Nicky Hagar are also good things to fight on the beaches. These are ok in a way that the plague book was not because they don't draw you into their world in the same way that fiction does. I can identify with the people of Diamond's dying civilisations, but it's not going to make me forget how comfortable my present situation is.
Fashion books are another kind of escapism altogether. Vogue creative director Grace Coddington has published a memoir, Grace, which fits the bill really well without being fluffy. She’s refreshingly no-nonsense for somebody who’s had such a glitteringly fabulous life, and her voice is appealingly straightforward.
Better known as the Sartorialist, fashion photographer Scott Schuman has released a second collection of gorgeous street fashion images from around the world. Schuman’s website is really worth a look for anybody interested in clothes, photography, travel or even just the diversity of human faces- he updates it several times each day, and he has a great eye for interesting subjects. The new book Closer is also a fluff-free zone, and reads like a condensed version of the most egalitarian fashion magazine you’ve ever seen.
Happy holidays from Baby Seal to all you bookworms, and commiserations if you’re one of the unlucky souls who bought their Christmas presents through Book Depository this year! It’s a good thing books don’t take much time to wrap…
- The Nelson Mail