I love to read and I love to read on holiday when, despite the children, there is so much more time for it. On the plane, on the beach, beside the pool where the children can easily spend a happy afternoon swimming, or on the balcony in the evenings, a glass of local wine by my side.
I always pack far too many books and I can spend hours deciding which to take with me. Big books that I haven’t the time to read at home, books that have languished forgotten on my bookshelves for years and books that just have to be read at once, like that hardback copy of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ I hauled out to Kefalonia last summer.
There were three of us at various stages of the book around the hotel pool and a woman on the flight home, two rows in front, 50 pages ahead. The moment I finished, I had to go up to her, a complete stranger who’d been inhabiting the same world as me for the last two hours, and talk to her about the book.
Because of course, that’s what novels do. They transport us to other worlds so that you can travel to another country without even being on holiday. I’ve never been much of a one for travel books (with the exception of guide books and the wonderful ‘Travels on my Elephant’, Mark Shand’s account of travelling across India on the back of an elephant) but I love novels that truly transport me to another place: the Mexico of Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Lacuna’, the Cairo of Ahdaf Souief’s ‘Map of Love’ and the Japan of Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.
I’ve visited Kabul in ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, Mississippi in ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett and wartime Berlin in ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada. I’ve been to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset and Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell have taken me on a tour of Tudor England in ‘Wolf Hall’. I can be on the beach in Greece yet in another world entirely.
My memories of books are always intertwined with the memories of the place in which I read them – the battered copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ that I read in the third class compartment of an Indian railway carriage, the intricacies of 19th-century Russia forever mixed up with the loud cries of “Chai! Chai!”, hard mattresses and searing heat.
This summer I will be in Turkey. I’ve already been to Istanbul with Orhan Pamuk’s ‘My Name is Red’. When I’m not having fun with my children on the beach I’ll be travelling to Vienna, Nigeria and occupied France in my head. I’ll let you know what I read.