Here’s a list of cracking reads for when you finally take off on your summer vacation
So, we’re into the month of May, that time of year when our thoughts inexorably veer towards that most-longed-for vacation: the summer break. But banish that glazed look in your eyes for a moment. I am not going to lecture you about how to get the perfect beach body or hold forth on how best to pack those long dresses that take you effortlessly from day to night. Nor am I going to dazzle with all the names of the must-visit destinations that you simply must visit. And I certainly have no advice on how to get there, or what to do and where to eat once you do.
What I have for you instead is something that is simply vital for every holiday: a list of books to take along and dip into as you sit for hours on an airplane, sunbathe on the beach, relax by the pool, or laze in bed. And no, I am not going to mention the usual suspects. By now, I am sure anyone who has any interest in reading has gobbled up Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train, or whatever the bestseller du jour is.
Instead I present, in no particular order of importance, a short list of all the authors that I love, and whose books you might enjoy reading during your break. (The fact that they are all women is just a happy accident.)
• Nora Ephron: There is no way you can possibly go wrong with Nora Ephron. If you enjoy fiction, you can kick back with the classic that started it all, Heartburn, the witty and sometimes darkly humorous chronicle of the end of a marriage. If you prefer non-fiction, you can immerse yourself in Ephron’s sparkling essays like the one that explains why I Feel Bad About My Neck. No matter what book you choose, your can depend on Ephron to keep you suitably entertained (not to mention entranced).
• Harper Lee: Now that the reclusive author is about to publish her second novel, Go Set A Watchman, a sequel to her first that came out 55 (yes, that’s right, 55) years ago, it may be time to pick up your tattered old copy of To Kill A Mockingbird and refresh your memories of Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout. You can then catch up with the adult Scout in the new book as she journeys back to visit her father in the new book (which was actually written before To Kill A Mockingbird but then put away and forgotten).
• Elizabeth Jane Howard: She is probably the most underrated novelist of her time, her fame eclipsed by her one-time husband, Kingsley Amis. But don’t let that deter you. Howard is a masterly storyteller and her tetralogy of novels, five books making up the Cazalet Chronicles, tracing the life of an upper-class English family over three generations, is a fantastic read.
• Kate Atkinson: She does family drama too, but so very differently. There is sometimes a gentle elegiac quality to her writing, which draws into you into the story, but it is always leavened with wit and humour. And sometimes there is a darkly brooding atmosphere that can be truly unsettling. If at all possible, try and read her trilogy of crime novels featuring ex-policeman Jackson Brodie, in order.
• Jodi Picoult: As regular readers of this column will know, she is an old favourite of mine and a reliable standby when it comes to page-turners that don’t demand too much of you (my definition of a holiday read, when it comes to that). Her latest, Leaving Time, was a bit patchy but if you haven’t read some of her earlier books – Change Of Heart, Perfect Match, Keeping Faith – you are in for a treat.
• Philippa Gregory: If historical fiction is your thing, then Gregory is your woman. And her novels set in the Tudor and Plantagenet period are quite unique for being written from the perspective of her principal women characters, who have been quite ignored by history. But whether it is Elizabeth Woodville or Elizabeth of York, they all come alive in her books, as fully-rounded, fleshed-out characters who influence the course of medieval English history from their vantage points behind the throne.
• Hilary Mantel: We’re still in historical fiction territory with her two latest bestsellers, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. But Mantel’s is a far more literary take on the subject than Gregory’s, though she manages to write page-turners just the same. She is the first person to tell the turbulent story of Henry VIII and his ill-fated love affair with Anne Boleyn from the perspective of the much-reviled Thomas Cromwell. And it is entirely a tribute to her writing skills that you begin to have a sneaking admiration for a man who was, by all historical accounts, a thoroughly nasty piece of work.
• Liane Moriarty: I came to discover her late, after she had written four books, but it was her fifth, the international bestseller, The Husband’s Secret, that really got me hooked. It begins with a suburban Australian wife stumbling upon a letter written by her husband with the exhortation that it only be read after his death. He is very much alive, but can she possibly resist opening the envelope? Read it to find out. Meanwhile I will be busy, delving into Moriarty’s new book, Big Little Lies, which I have earmarked for my own vacation.