So this post is entirely self-indulgent. I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks with my best friend and despite neglecting to buy a bikini I have, of course, selected my reading material. It’s kind of the most important part of my hype process. Shush. This post contains some of my holiday reads of years gone by, books I’ve read that would have been perfect holiday reads and one or two that I just love and will take any chance to pedal to people. Okay, let’s just get into it!!
10. Howards End by E. M. Forster
I can already feel the eye rolls of my course friends as I write this. They know how much I loved studying this book and I used to (…) get mad because no one else seemed to love it as much as I did. But I’m not trying to sell it as a book, I’m trying to sell it as a holiday read. I have to admit I knew fudge all about Forster before I studied him. That’s not a new thing for me, if studying English at university has taught me anything it’s that I have read, like, nothing. So, when I picked up this book as the first of the semester, I was immediately drawn in by how easy the form and style was to read. For a book from 1910, I was not expecting it. It reads almost cinematically: I found myself being able to picture every little thing – the landscapes, the houses, the characters – perfectly. Forster’s style is fluid and uncomplicated yet masterful at spinning the plates of upwards of seven principle characters. Thematically, it’s literary and pretty high-concept in some ways but super accessible nonetheless. I just loved this book and it’s well worth checking off the list whilst you have the time to. Read whilst travelling to get the full force of modernism.
9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Oooooh I have such emotions over this book. I got it in a Christmas stocking many, many years ago and was initially confused as to why my mum had bought me what presented as a creepy horror book (she’s more of a Jane Austen/historical fiction person). I flicked through it and was intrigued by the photographic inserts, creepy as they were, and settled to start it when the Christmas food coma set in.
It’s solidly grounded in the YA genre but I love that genre, still, no shame. Because of this, it is a quick one to engage with, the characters are relatable (if a little 2D) and the world has just the right amount of magic and suspense. The whole concept is well thought out and fresh for the fantasy world. The form and design of the book is delicious. Little magical trademarks always satisfy me – different Patronuses in HP, the Peculiarities of the children and.. yeah, okay, the skills of the vampires in Twilight. It’s an easy read and definitely one that you get as much as you put in. If I remember rightly I had been having trouble finding something I could really get into at the time so this book seemed like a godsend when I picked it up, so I got a load out of it. I didn’t have the same experience with the sequels, however, but this books succeeds more than enough as a stand alone. Great for plane rides or slow evenings on the balcony.
8. The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf
Okay, so I know this seems a bit heavy. This spot was initially going to be taken up by a Katherine Mansfield short story collection but this entry has a special little addition. It’s available, for free, on the Kindle app. Yep, completely free. As long as you have an Amazon membership you can get pretty much every piece of writing Virginia Woolf has ever produced for free. FREE. It’s madness, honestly. I found this out because I’m doing a single author study on her next year but I’m 100% taking this with me on my holiday. No matter where you stand on the whole e-Book debate, it is easier and more efficient to take a Kindle instead of 2-3 books in your carry-on. Virginia Woolf is a super important lady when it comes to shaping contemporary fiction and her work is really worth it. Though initially hard, once you get used to her style it can be really lovely. There’s the selection of essays, novels and even letters in the free collection, so you can dip in and out as you please. I recommend A Room of One’s Own and To the Lighthouse if you’re looking for that holiday setting. Good for after dinner when you can give it some thought. Did I mentions it’s FREE??
7. Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
Now, here’s some textbook holiday read for you. A proper suspense novel, this book is a cliffhanger after cliffhanger page-turner of a read. Although not my favourite story or execution, I did completely devour it. As a thriller, it ticks all the boxes and for someone who prides themselves on being able to guess plot twists, it took me a long time to get this one. It’s a really good plot twist and a messed up one too.
The kind that makes you go ‘Ew. No. Oh my god. No. EW. I feel icky.’ You know? A film was made of it a few years back and I remember being disappointed-ish but I might have distracted by the fact Colin Firth was in it. I’ll explain that later. Most of the suspense comes from the main character’s amnesia, so it is a very internal kind of drama. That sort of thing is hard to translate onto the screen but is a novel writer’s bread and butter. A good alternative to this would be And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but Before I Go to Sleep has a definite modern feel to it and is perhaps more relatable and easy to sink your teeth into. This would be a great one when you’re killing time on the beach. There’s a whole section in my home love Brighton after all! Maybe don’t read in an enclosed space though.
6. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
This one is just a cute one. I read it sat in a deck chair in my mum’s house in Norfolk because I didn’t bring any books home with me and it was just there on the shelf. Based around a thirty-something autistic man, there is the risk of it being a bit misrepresentative, but from what the author’s notes say Simison pulled from a real-life friend to create as accurate a character as he could in Don Tillman. It’s a pretty classic boy-meets-girl type scenario, where the girl is the complete opposite of what the boy wants but (SPOILER) they have mad chemistry anyway. You could easily tear this book apart in a day or two and will simply warm your heart. For something light and fluffy and to make you feel good about the world, go for this. Very easy to dip in and out of, so take with you to read in between holiday activities. It’s a proper book-club read so pass it onto your mum/friend/Airbnb host when you’re done with it and there’s a sequel for when you’re done.
5. Anything by John Green
By that I mean anything that he’s written, not some obscure book called Anything that you’ve never heard of. Like most people my age, I went through a right John Green phase where I read everything he’d written back to back. Specifically, I remember reading An Abundance of Katherines in Egypt and Paper Towns in Paris. Both books and both holidays had a whole bunch of driving in (stuff in Egypt is so far apart and Paris was a coach-led school trip) so these books really reflected my ‘I’m such a cool, well-travelled edgy 14-year old’ vibe. Again, they are YA fiction so it doesn’t take much to get sucked in. I prefer these two novels over The Fault in Our Stars, but that may be because I overhyped the latter in my head for ages before it came out. Still, all of John Green’s novels are enjoyable, readable, emotional and funny in just the right amounts. I had ‘I go to seek a great perhaps’ written on my wall for ages after I read Looking for Alaska. My John Green phase also coincided with my quote collection phase. A great one to read in the back of a car, driving literally anywhere and wishing you were younger, edgier and way easier to fall in love with than you are.
4. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Another book I have strong holiday memories attached to is this novel by the writer of The Book Thief. His previous novel is absolutely NOT a holiday read, unless you like being very, very saddened on holiday, but I Am the Messenger is a great choice. It’s sort of YA-y with a mystery element but based very much in the reality of a down-on-his-luck cab driver in Australia. Ed, the cabbie, ends up stopping a bank robbery and through various events becomes a messenger for an unknown entity. Being the messenger gives him this kind of mission, this purpose, in life and he follows it even when it seems to be doing more harm than good. I just remember really wanting to pick this book up. I read it on a super busy holiday but still managed to get through it in a short few days so I take that as a testament to the writing. Overall, just an engaging, fun book with characters who really make you care about them and a plotline that makes you wanna find out more. It also sets you up for the tear fest that is The Book Thief if you want to read that when you’re not trying to have a nice time.
3. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
This one’s poems! You may have seen Rupi Kaur’s work online a lot. She gained fame as an ‘Instagram poet’, posting her short, sweet poems with little illustrations onto the social media platform. Her posts quickly escalated into a book deal and thus Milk and Honey was born. It’s a gorgeous book, it really is. The cover has a matte finish, the illustrations all the way through are adorable and even the font choice is delicate and resonating of the whole feel of the collection. The poems document a young love and all the bittersweet wonder of those feelings. In all honesty, I’m not overly into them, but there are little tidbits of gold in there. ‘i want to apologize to all the women’ is a beautiful piece of writing with a towering sentiment that stuck with me for days. My best friend has this poem written out and stuck on her wall, so it always makes me think of her (she is also resilient and extraordinary as well as beautiful so it makes me v emosh) and is honestly just such a heartwarming thing. The brilliance of taking a poetry collection on holiday with you is that you can spend as much time with it as you like. These pieces are super short to read so are perfect for skimming through between tan rotations on the beach or steps in the airport. Whether or not poetry is your thing, I highly recommend showing this lady’s work to your friends and family as they somehow resonate with everyone.
2. Emma by Jane Austen
STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES AT ME. You know who you are. I’m not going to defend Jane Austen because I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO but seriously, just, please, like.. give her a chance if you haven’t already. This is the root of my Colin Firth love (remember that from earlier?) and I had a hard time picking between Emma and Pride and Prejudice. P&P is my original love (I read it whilst sick in bed on a Wales holiday when I was 11) but Emma is my all-time favourite regency novel.
Something about the whole book feels sunny to me, which is why I selected it for the holiday read section. Box Hill, where Emma and her friends visit together, is just a county over from mine and I have actually been there several times, so picturing that section of the book is always so vivid for me. Emma is a brilliant example of Austen’s work. It balances female friendships, male friendships, male-female friendships, single parent families, older couples, rich-poor relations, marrying for love and marrying for money. All with a great sense of humour and a main character you don’t always root for. Emma makes some major, like major, mistakes and sometimes seems outright intolerable but that’s what makes her such a brilliant protagonist. She grows and changes throughout the novel, and whether you believe if Emma’s intentions are always good or not, you can always track how she comes to the conclusions she comes to. I’m also a sucker for a good declaration of love and this is HANDS DOWN the best one in existence. ‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more’. OOOOF. Also, the BBC adaptation of this book is fantastic, so you’d get that all-too-rare warm fuzzy feeling of the TV show living up to the book. Also, Jonny Lee Miller is a dream. Read this one wherever, whenever, just read it, please. P-L-E-A-S-E.
1. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
Here it is! Number 1. In a sentence, imagine a super modern, hilarious, Muslim Bridget Jones. I know, right. This was my pick for last year’s holiday after watching my absolute favourite Youtube/book gal Leena Norms interview the writer and also rant about it on social media. I’m ashamed to say my reading history has never included a Muslim author and has an unacceptably small about of POC writers. I’m a big believer in reading stories about people with different life experiences to you. For me, it’s the most effective way into empathising with others. But this book, man.
Aside from all that, this book is just fantastic. It’s hilarious, for one. Laugh-out-loud funny. Sofia is adorable, her family is awesome and her love interests range from mad to dreamy to shocking. It is, on the surface, very chic-litty. There is nothing wrong with chic-lit, by the way, but I know that can unfortunately out people off. In format, this book is written like a diary, so it immediately reminisces things like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging (childhood aaah). Therefore, it is incredibly easy to read and, apt to that holiday lifestyle, very pick-up-and-put-downable. I read this one by the pool overlooking the mountains between the Bonsian and Croatian border whilst on holiday with 5 boys, so it gave me a nice bit of girly respite. Even so, I would completely recommend this book to anyone. It’s just… smart. So smart. All the way through there are these little references, like to specific Patisserie Valeries which just give that little bit of richness to an already fully realised set of characters as well as providing a little bit of in-joke satisfaction. More importantly, though, this books taught me so much about Muslim culture. Without ever seeming like it was teaching me anything, I finished the book with a whole new knowledge base. I don’t want to get too political, because this book shouldn’t be political in any way, it should just be enjoyed for the pure joy that it is, but reading it really did open my eyes to things I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Achieving that whilst still making me laugh on every page and rooting for one guy over the other in a classic love triangle sitch is some pretty great writing if you ask me. A great read for pool or seaside, or as a nice light wind down on a dusky evening. Ayisha Malik also seems like a super lady, check out her and Leena’s interview here.
And just one more…
A little honorable mention here, for a book I want to read but haven’t managed to get my hands on yet. If you don’t follow @jonnysun on Twitter, please fix that immediately. He is the only person whose quotes still grace my walls. His book, Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too, looks like the most perfect little collection of messages, sayings and illustrations that ever did be. Here’s the quote that I have above my desk: for whatever reason, it is the most inspiring thing I’ve read all year. Perfect summer stuff.