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Mary Quicke: Holiday reading

PUBLISHED: 16:19 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 16:19 15 August 2016

Mary Quicke. Photo by Matt Austin

Mary Quicke. Photo by Matt Austin


This month our columnist Mary Quicke is choosing books for her holiday

An essential part of holiday preparation is working out what books to take. The book I’m reading, yes. Don’t want to run out. What shall I take? More of the same? Or will I want another style? I know I can download them onto my tablet, but there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hand, flicking back to remember some detail that I didn’t notice was important at the time, checking the character list for someone I can’t place.

When I’ve got a good book on the go, I can’t wait to get back to it. Normally I leave reading my book till bedtime. I envelop myself in the story before sleep envelops me.

I read and read with a page-turner. I just need to find out what happens next. As a child, I’d read with a torch under the bed clothes, I didn’t want to stop. The only problem then is that your book ends. I look to see how many pages left, how much total immersion is left. I consider stretching it out a bit, and usually I can’t bear to.

Oh no! The book goes by even quicker. I used to resent the length of long books, I wanted to get through them, onto the next one. Now I want them to last, and to keep me going for the whole holiday.

I’d always avoided reading War and Peace. So long, all those Russian names with patronymics, you never know who anyone is. I’d just finished my last book and the empty void of no book on the go opened up. Amazing, what a book. In a paragraph Tolstoy lets you into yet another person’s whole world. Tom even printed out a character list I kept as a bookmark. I bailed out of events early to roll around in bed with him. Disaster! I’ve finished it. What next? Anna Karenina? I can’t just go straight to it, too much Russia and high drama. What to take along to put in between?

My friend Henry Marshall suggested I read a hilarious Graham Greene novel, Monsignor Quixote. That gets packed.

Surely I won’t need any more? On holiday, glorious luxury, I’ll be able to read whenever I want. But what happens if I don’t want a chunky Russian novel on holiday?

I keep a list of the books people recommend, with the name of who recommends them. It gives me a sense of what the book may be like. It’s like I’m taking them on holiday. Serious, humorous, curious, gripping, learned, sociable, or far out.

Hmm. Holiday time. Disengaging from the normal routine, decompressing. Whose recommendation will I want? Light, funny, romantic? Oh, perhaps worthy and factual. Take both in case.

Now I’ve packed a weighty chunk of books. Good job we are going by car. I embarrassedly bury my lack of ability to chose in the bottom of the car, carry them into the bedroom at the other end before anyone can notice. Now I’ve got a great pile of books by my bed. I don’t really read that first night. I wake up to that lovely holiday first morning, lie in bed luxuriating in nothing in particular to do, gazing out of the window at the beautiful Devon coastline, enjoying the lassitude of long-awaited rest.

I look at my carefully chosen books. None of them appeals. Let’s have a leisurely breakfast, go for a walk, catch up with friends. Take my sketch book out (it only comes out on holiday), surf, pick cowrie shells. Play cards, do the crossword, do sudoku. Have a lovely meal, chat.

That book on the shelf, someone else’s book, looks fun, I pick up it, and go straight to sleep after five minutes.

By the end of the holiday, I’ve read a couple of fun books off the holiday house shelf. My stack from home goes back untouched, now a heap by my bed. Chosen and rejected once, they languish.

‘What shall I read tonight?’ returns, a daily at home holiday from the concerns of the day. The Graham Greene is funny. Go on, let’s do Anna Karenina. Reading is fun. Holiday reading is different. Enjoy them both.

‘When I’ve got a good book on the go, I can’t wait to get back to it. Normally I leave reading my book till bedtime. I envelop myself in the story before sleep envelops me’


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