Summer holidays 2017: What books are in your luggage?

summer reading 17The summer holiday season is in full swing now (at least in the northern hemisphere). Apparently this weekend is the big getaway when multiple thousands of us Brits depart this isle in search of warmer climes and sunnier skies. Even our Prime Minister has packed her bags and departed for a walking holiday and the Downing Street cat has been moved into temporary accommodation next door with the Chancellor. Those choosing to holiday at home just hope it stays dry but if not, then they’ll encounter merely the odd sprinkling of rain rather than a deluge. Nothing more guaranteed to the take the veneer off that camping holiday than day after day of rain fall.

Whether the destination is a lazy beach holiday in the sun,  a trek through the mountains of Switzerland or a meander around French chateaux and vineyards, our national newspapers claim to have found exactly the right books to be your companions.  I enjoy reading those lists of  ‘summer holiday must reads’ and not simply to look smug at home many of them I’ve read (actually the answer this year is very few since I’ve been concentrating on reading books bought in past years so haven’t read much published in 2017). But I often get ideas for gifts to myself and for others when I see the recommendations.

So what do the professional reviewers/commentators think we should all be putting in our cases and backpacks?

The Daily Telegraph listed 15 titles in their ‘literary’ category.

  • Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: A sort of follow up to her highly esteemed My Name is Lucy Barton
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy: Her first novel for 20 years and it’s a scorcher apparently.
  • Transit by Rachel Cusak. Second in a trilogy that began with Outline, and is built almost entirely in the form of conversations.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead: I thought this was doing the rounds last summer so odd to see it pop up again in 2017
  • House of Names by Colm Toibin: A retelling of an ancient Greek tale about Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Cassandra
  • Moonglow by Michael Chabon: The (fictionalised) deathbed memories of Chabon’s grandfather, an American-Jewish rocket scientist.
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: This revolves around the ghost of Abraham Lincoln’s son who died aged 11, and his neighbours in the graveyard. A very large cast of characters who all get their moment in the spotlight.
  • White Tears by Hari Kunzru: Two white boys, one an outsider, one a nerd, bond over their infatuation with black music.
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: To call this “a novel of American domestic life”, a description I’ve seen in multiple places, does a disservice to Patchett’s talent.
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith: Two female friends growing up on the same kind of housing estate in north west London where Smith herself spent her formative years.
  • The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride: Expect the same kind of bewildering fragmentary narrative style as in her earlier A Girl is a Half Formed Thing.
  • The Traitor’s Niche by Ismael Kadare: the only translated book to feature in this list. Set in the Ottoman era, a world where everything is subordinated to the needs of the state.
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman: Winner of the Bailey’s Prize 2017
  • First Love by Gwendoline Riley:  A novella tracing the disintegration of a marriage
  • Night of Fire by Colin Thubron: Fire breaks out in a large house divided into flats. Each tenant gets to tell the story.
  • Reservoir 13 by John McGregor: Each of the 13 chapters covers a single year since a 13-year old girl goes missing when out walking with her family
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman: A comic portrayal of  university life in the 90s
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney:  A debut work about four Dubliners in a strange relationship.

There’s a lot of overlap between this list and recommendations made in The Guardian‘s article where they asked some authors what they would recommend and in The Sunday Times list of 50 Beach Reads. Lincoln in the Bardo, House of Names and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness came up more than once.

How many of these have I read? OK I come clean – the answer is zero. I do have Commonwealth and Anything is Possible on my Goodreads wishlist and will now add two more as a result of these recommendations: Night of Fire and Reservoir 13. 

I do enjoy peeking behind the curtain to find out what authors will be packing alongside their flip flops and sun hats but the real fun for me comes when the newspaper approaches our politicians to ask either for their recommendations or the titles of books they’ll be taking on their own holidays. I can only imagine the angst such a request triggers because it comes laden with minefields for the unwary.  The ministers and Cabinet members will want to ensure their choices are suitably matched to the seriousness of our times so they’ll probably nominate something rather worthy about economic or social issues. Then they’ll think they need to mix that up with some choices that show they have the finger on the pulse so will pick one or two titles that ‘everyone is talking about’, probably from the top of the Sunday Times list. And just to show that they have a personality and are, deep down, just like you and me, they’ll finish off with something odd or witty. It wouldn’t surprise me to find some of these folks even get their public affairs advisers to put the list together so they don’t unwittingly trip up. What you never see is anyone brave enough to admit that they just want a darn good crime story or thriller. Where’s the harm in admitting that after a stressful few months, they simply want to chill out. I bet you that more than one of them sneaks an Ian Rankin or Jo Nesbo into their luggage.

How many of these ever so worthy titles they mention, actually get read? I now that’s something I’d love to know but we never get to find out. No newspaper ever seems to go back to these people and ask them for their reactions. I bet most of them come back with hardly a blob of suntan cream  blemishing their pristine pages.

What will I be taking on my holidays? No flitting off to the sun for me yet sadly – I’m still in recovery from my last round of surgery and not yet allowed to fly. But I’m hoping to make it to a cottage in Derbyshire in a few weeks and since I won’t be constrained by luggage weight restrictions I can pack in quite a few options. As always I won’t decide until the night before we leave – or given my procrastination, it might be in the last 30 minutes before we head off.

What are you packing with your sun dresses and shorts this year? Anything from the list of recommendations that takes your fancy?



About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on July 23, 2017, in #20books of summer, Bookends, Sunday Salon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Would love to read The Idiot and see what kind of chords it strikes.

  2. I’m barreling through the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. It’s gruesome, but I love mystery, and the way she writes has taught me a lot about forensic pathology. Next up: “The Body Farm”

  3. From that list I’ve read The Power and Reservoir 13. I loved the first and hated the second! I have The Underground Railroad to read soon. 🙂

  4. I’ve read three of these (and have another three in the TBR stack). Swing Time was good in parts but I wasn’t overwhelmed. On the other hand, Conversations With Friends was punchy and interesting. Commonwealth was glorious and will be in my top five reads of the year. Enjoy your time at the cottage!

  5. I loved Batuman’s The Idiot and, surprisingly, didn’t care for Elizabeth Strout’s latest. I love the lists, too. Perhaps I’ve read ten, but I would read more if I could find them!

  6. buriedinprint

    I haven’t read any of these either, but I am quite enjoying a reading year which is mostly backlisted stuff (only 4 from 2017 so far, whereas the number would normally be at least 1/3 of my reading). I suspect that, in time, I’ll read five or six of these, but I share your doubts about such sets of instructions. And, as you and others have said, it does seem to presume that one doesn’t read any other time of the year, so perhaps those of us who do simply have no business peeking at such lists! 🙂

  7. I’m reading a weird mix of Jane Austen fanfiction and finance books 😀 I have to even out somehow!

  8. I seem to have bucked the trend here and come back from my holidays on the busiest getaway weekend. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am kept me going through most of my week. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I did. Happy reading in Derbyshire, Karen!

  9. Commonwealth is unfortunately the only one I read on this list, and I really regret I did. “a novel of American domestic life” does sound pretty close. i was so so disappointed by this book and its writing, so low compared to her previous books

  10. I definitely recommend Lincoln in the Bardo, Anything is Possible, Underground Railroad, and House of Names. All of these are worthy reads.

  11. White Tears caught my attention (my book Musical Youth has teen characters bonding over music as well, so clearly I’m interested in the subject matter). The Underground Railroad was already on my to-read list (but don’t know when that will happen; like you I’m still trying to cut through the books already on my book shelf). I agree with you though that what books you’re packing shouldn’t be such a loaded question (it doesn’t always have to be so-called prestige books). Hope you continue healing and enjoy the reading at your cottage.

    • Fortunately I am not famous – or infamous – so no-one is likely to put me on the spot about what I’m taking on holidays. One positive side of being just an ordinary mortal

  12. Well I have Anything is Possible so I may read that over the summer, I have already read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and loved it. I am going on a short long weekend trip to Paris on Friday, coach trip so lots of reading time. I am still agonizing about what to take to read.

  13. I always take my Kindle on holiday so I have plenty of books to choose from. I hope you enjoy your time in the cottage in Derbyshire 🙂

    • that is indeed the huge benefit of the Kindle – you can pack so many books there’s bound to be something to suit the mood. i still like to take ‘real’ ones with me though.

  14. I’m not going anywhere so no packing, but I can recommend Commonwealth but found Anything is Possible disappointing.

  15. I’m off for a little round trip visiting my mum and my offspring over the summer – and whatever else I pack, War and Peace will have to go with me!

  16. I’m not going away until October now, apart from a seaside weekend next month. For the week away I’ll be packing two books set in Cornwall, as that’s where we’re going, and whatever I’m up to the TBR by then, plus my Kindle. I don’t tend to pack special stuff for holidays apart from books set where I’m going, if I can manage it. Hope you get to the cottage, I know what surgery recovery is like and at points you can’t ever imagine doing normal stuff again, can you, then you find yourself OK.

    • Im recovering fine though just not at the speedy pace I want. I did manage a two hour walk yesterday though so must be well on the mend. I do like reading books set in the place I’m visiting though its not always possible. Like you I don’t reserve books just for holiday times

  17. Commonwealth and The Lesser Bohemians are on my TBR. I became interested in the latter after reading your review. I read Lincoln in the Bardo recently. Unfortunately, it was quite the let-down. It didn’t move me as I thought it would, and I found the ghosts obnoxious and distracting.

  18. I love the sound of your cottage getaway. I no longer even think of flying anywhere, as the packing and luggage restraints—not to mention being all the way up there in the sky—keep me grounded.

    Great list, though, and I tend to just take my Kindle (Pippa) wherever I go. Last summer, I visited my youngest son at the beach and took Pippa. I actually read two of the books, too.

    I loved Commonwealth and I hope to read Anything is Possible at some point.

    • I know all the security measures are for our own safety etc but all that hassle about taking laptops out of bags and removing shoes etc just adds to the stress.

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