Let’s be honest, the books you read on holiday tend to be a bit of a hit and miss assortment. If you’re anything like me, those few books you buy excitedly in Waterstones the week before you travel are usually finished by the time your plane lands.
As such, a random selection of ‘back up books’ is a holiday essential, and even then you often have to resort to reading that yellowing paperback left in your hotel room.
However, although the idea of a ‘beach read’ does not always suggest a literary masterpiece, I’ve discovered that you can find some real gems amongst them. For me, there are three books in particular which have always stood out as being the most pleasantly surprising, intriguing and engaging of my holiday reads.
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
I have to start with this one because, for a long time, this was my response to that seemingly unanswerable question, ‘what’s your favourite book?’. Admittedly, I was quite young when I read this, and the rather slow opening, set in an English boarding school, failed to grab me immediately.
However, I was soon drawn in by Ibbotson’s exotic choice of main setting, the Amazon rainforest. I was completely mesmerised by her evocative descriptions. To this day, when asked where I would go given the choice of anywhere in the world, I answer with Brazil, a choice inspired solely by this book.
Although the location alone would have been enough to capture my imagination, beyond this there is a carefully crafted plot that couples the harsh realities of loneliness and disappointment with an exploration of the importance of friendship. When choosing this book, I don’t think I predicted that it would excite me as much as the rides at Disneyworld, so this definitely qualifies as one of my most memorable holiday reads.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Although this may be considered by some to be a children’s book, I came to it fairly recently with the idea that it would be an easy read, a light hearted and entertaining break from the classics that were filling up my suitcase in the hope that I would have something to talk about in my personal statement. Whilst it was certainly all these things, I definitely did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
The world down the rabbit hole is anything but childish; it’s humorous, witty, colourful and vibrant. Carroll offers a complete escape whilst remaining engaging with linguistic playfulness and an exploration of the innocence and intelligence of childhood imagination.
I’ve reread both stories multiple times, recommended it unreservedly to others and have even taken a liking to Alice themed gifts and trinkets; it’s fair to say this book has definitely stayed with me beyond the beach.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I had no idea what to expect from this book when I picked it off my parents’ bookshelf in a last minute attempt to assure I would not be left lacking reading material on holiday. To say I was pleasantly surprised would not be fitting here; Hosseini’s brutally honest depiction of life in Afghanistan and Pakistan both shocked and horrified me.
This was certainly not the kind of book I was used to reading whilst relaxing by the poolside. However, it’s for this very reason that I remember it so vividly.
Until I read this book, problems in these areas existed to me only as news items. I knew there was conflict and struggle, but this book was the eye opener that helped me understand the nature and extent of these issues. Hosseini’s tale had such an influence on me that it inspired me read more on this subject (something which I usually reserve strictly for essential academic work).
What’s more, the educational and cultural value of the book is just one of its stand-out elements; Hosseini’s distinct writing style and narrative which puts core themes of love, family and friendship against a background of social and political turbulence make this a truly striking text.
What do you think of these books? Have your say in the comments section below.
Image: Simon Cocks / Flickr