Forget FOMO, do your research and try audiobooks for beach reading bliss
Words Sarah Shaffi
Going on holiday over the summer can be fraught with dilemmas. Where to go, what to wear, whether to check in baggage or just go with hand luggage, whether to plan excursions or wing it…. the list goes on and on.
But for me, there is one thing that proves more difficult than any other: deciding which books to take.
Forget being beach body ready (have a body? You’re ready to go to the beach), being summer-book-ready is the difficult thing.
In years gone by I’ve made mistakes with my summer reading. There was the year I took just one book and finished it on the plane on the way to my destination (Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper – I did a lot of stealth weeping at the book and at the fact I had nothing left to read for the next two weeks). Then there was the year I took six books and read only a few pages of each, and then dragged them all back home with me (they were for work so I couldn’t abandon them).
But then there was the one glorious year I took four books, and read and loved them all (Tunisia 2015, what a vintage).
So how do you go about choosing what books to take with you on holiday? Here are a few tips.
Be realistic about your time
If you’re going on a city break, or planning plenty of excursions, then you may not have as much time to read as if you’re going on a two-week beach break where you have nothing to do but sit and relax. Plan your reading accordingly.
Big epics or series – Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches to name but a few – won’t work if you’re out and about all the time but are great if you have time to get lost in a book. For busy trips, go for shorter texts that don’t require you to read 50 pages at a time, such as Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a tense, short novel that you can fall into really easily.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is reading
This is a tip for your holiday that also works as a general life reading tip. There are always “big” books that everyone seems to be talking about, but don’t feel as though you HAVE to read them if they don’t sound right for you. The buzz around big books can often be outsized, so while it might seem like everyone’s reading and talking about one book, that’s often not the case.
Re-reading is more than ok
There is no rule saying that you must consume something new. For many years now I’ve chosen to reread JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series over the summer. For me, the books contain exactly what I want in a summer read – intriguing plot, good pacing, characters I love to love and love to hate. Plus, because I know them so well now, I can skip any bits that I want to.
If you don’t like something, stop reading it
Another valuable life reading rule that becomes even more important when you’re taking books on holiday. Don’t put pressure on yourself to continue with something you’re struggling with. Life is too short, and holidays are definitely too short, to read books you don’t like.
Think about audiobooks
If you’re going on a short break or only taking hand luggage, consider an audiobook as a space saver. Some audiobooks are fairly straightforward – one narrator reading the whole thing – while others go all out with full casts. The audiobook for George Saunders’ Man Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo has an all star cast, including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Miranda July and more. Or if you’re looking to consume a classic, Maggie Gyllenhaal is the reader for Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Do your research
When it comes to books, winging it is not my forte. Before going on holiday, pop into a few bookshops or the library to see what’s out, read reviews and the blurbs on books to see if they sound like your kind of thing, and make an informed decision. Turning up to the train station or airport and picking up the first thing you see is the start of a journey to a bad holiday reading experience.
Make sure it’s fun
This is the most important thing. For some people fun is reading gory crime novels while sat on the beach, for others it’s consuming romance by the side of the hotel pool, while others still will want to dip into something familiar over a leisurely coffee. Don’t be tempted to suddenly strike out into a genre you’ve never tried before just because you’re going away and think you need to be adventurous – stick with what you enjoy already, because you’ll enjoy it even more when reading it in a relaxed mood on holiday.
Sarah Shaffi is a freelance literary journalist and event chair, editor-at-large for the independent children’s publisher Little Tiger Group, and co-founder of BAME in Publishing.