The holiday book conundrum

There’s no good way to start a post about going on holiday without sounding like you’re showing off, or so I’ve decided in the past five minutes. Regardless, I am going on holiday in a week, and I have a big decision to make. One that may change my entire life (with a little imagination). Which book should I take with me?

Plenty of books are marketed as ‘holiday reads’. The phrase conjures for me an image of thick paperbacks you might take on the beach, in whichever genre you may like best. Lots of thrillers seem to be touted as travel companions, presumably in case your holiday is so rubbish you need escapism. Articles suggest recent popular books that you might want to catch up on now that you’ve got some time away from the daily grind. A quick Google brought up Waterstones’ page of ‘holiday reads’, which seem to have the defining feature of being books that exist (actually, they’re paperback books that exist, for easier packing I assume).

None of this helps my decision. I’m only going for a few days and only taking a backpack so the book must be singular. There’s not likely to be much reading time, but I still want to take a book. My previous two cheap European city break holidays don’t offer much inspiration. When I went to Rome as an undergrad I took the major works of Byron so I could continue reading Don Juan (and did sit on the top bunk in a shared room in a comic book themed hostel reading it). I don’t remember which book I took to Berlin (a hunt through our holiday photos and a bit of squinting reveals it was Steppenwolf), but I know I bought a Reclam copy of A Clockwork Orange with endearing German footnotes. I could read something related to my location, but I’ve already read a few Czech books in translation thanks to having a Czech friend and I’ve been reading Kafka as some kind of pre-holiday homework.


With this in mind, here are my thoughts on what may make the best holiday reads:

  • A book that doubles up as something else – With baggage restrictions and limited space, you need a Swiss army knife of a book. Either something thin that could also be a fan, or something hefty that could be a doorstop or a weapon.
  • A book featuring characters visiting exciting locations that aren’t the one you’re in – Then you get two holidays: the one you’re on and the one you’re getting vicariously through a novel.
  • A book listing the best holiday reads – Would take the decision away, meaning you can just flick through pages looking at what you could be reading.