Holiday reading

I always love to rediscover an old holiday read on the bookshelf, its pages stained with sun tan lotion, the pages clumped and curling from frequent encounters with my dripping self. I can always remember the holiday where it earned its battered state, the beach or poolside that provided the backdrop to its disfigurement and post- sodden state. Summer reads like destinations should supply just enough entertainment to help the mind unravel. A tome that requires too much concentration as you lie poolside is never a good idea.

I attempted Thomas Piketty’s ” Capital” on day one on the beach and after half an hour was in an advanced state of anxiety about the World, the economy and my own meagre place in all this. I abandoned it for an Autumn night, made immediate peace with the fact that I’ll never have much money, it seems to elude me somehow, like the green light in Gatsby.

I returned to my supply of novels that promised to transport me to other lives and other sensibilites. I can highly recommend the following beach themed books.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub- a deftly observed novel about the secrets,lies and jealousies that bubble to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler- The character Delia Grinstead vanishes without any reason. She sheds her old life for a new and exiting one, which makes it an ideal holiday read as you lie on the deck chair and think of new schemes and reinventions.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- enter into this landmark novel of high modernism and join the Ramsay family in their summer house off the coast of Scotland, as prepare to be transformed by this moving portrait of family life.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh- From the Ramsays at the turn of the century, you can now join the long-married Jenn and Greg on summer vacation in Mallorca. As you sip your vino be prepared for a very steamy read of lust in the lemon groves. Oh, and it doesn’t involve Greg as the object of this lust..

Alison Moore’s first novel ” The Lighthouse ” brings the reader on a holiday that begins on the deck of a ferry, where we meet Futh who is leaving an unravelling marriage for a walking holiday along the Rhine. What follows is a story of repetition and circularity, which is deliciously unsettling. As a Man Booker contender this book lends a bit of literary cachet to your beach look!

Always good when on foreign shores to hark back to the motherland with that peculiar mixture of smug gratitude at having escaped however temporarily and a sort of nostalgic patriotism for the old isle. These books, recently published by Irish authors are superb.
Eimear McBride’s ” A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is an experience that needs a little commitment from the reader and this award winning book will teach you more about language and consciousness than a PhD in linguistics. She’s hailed as a Joycean genius, make up your own mind.

Colin Barrett’s ” Young Skins” is probably the best collection of short stories I’ve read in the last few years. These stories are based in a fictional Mayo town, and in both style and scope excavate the gaping holes in lives and loves in post-boom Ireland.


A Prescription For Happiness – Bibliotherapy.

Reading is the new therapy.

Reading is the new therapy.

Recent studies from Liverpool University led by Professor Philip Davies have demonstrated that reading the classics improves our own reflectiveness and self-knowledge. Extracts from works such as ‘Othello,’King Lear,’ ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Corialinus’ were read by participants and scientists measured brain changes during these exercises using Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Extracts from the work of Larkin, Wordsworth and TS Eliot were also read by the readers for the experiment. After reading the classical work, the participants then read the work in a simplified form, without any of the metaphor and colour of the original. Not surprisingly, the results showed much greater electrical activity in the brain when the complex phrases and eloquent sentences were being read, as opposed to the dumbed down versions of the classical construct.

Indeed, the right side of the brain which is concerned with personal memory and emotion was highly stimulated when reading poetry, which prompted the scientists to extrapolate that self-reflection and a reappraisal of previous experiences is produced by the bardic works. This research is in its infancy but coupled with the rolling out this May of a scheme in the U.K. dubbed “Books on Prescription,” there is a very large swing in favour of the healing powers of books and literature. The scheme according to Miranda McKearney, director of the Reading Agency will allow GPs to write out prescriptions for books available at their local libraries to sufferers of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.The list includes many self-help books as well as mood-boosting novels and poetry from writers such as Jo Brand, Bill Bryson and Terry Jones. This is extremely good news for those of us who have always known the restorative powers of an early night and immersion in a good book.

I have always been a book lover and it is a relationship that has withstood the vagaries of time and has remained unsullied by my odd flirtations with music and travel. A life without books for me would have been an arid desert of gulag groundhog day, dull and dreary and essentially unintelligible.  I read for the sheer pleasure of escape into another World, into other states of consciousness, other apercus and filters of experience. The only World any of us know is the one our own brain shows us, and as human beings we can often feel alone in our thoughts and views, unable to access the inner thoughts and feelings of others. Even as a young reader I always loved that eureka moment when the character in the novel had a train of thought similar to my own, that communing with the author, that finding a bit of myself in the pages of a book.

I progressed from an obsession with bible stories at four through Enid Blyton, hanging out for a while with Anne of Green Gables.I think that reading The Catcher in the Rhy at thirteen opened my eyes to teenage angst as suffered by Holden which was mirroring by own bubbling rebelliousness. Life and art are good bedfellows and in novels and poetry the dilemmas and beauty of the human condition are there in the pages , waiting to be discovered by the reader. The School of Life, which was set up my philosopher and writer Alain De Botton in Bloomsbury, London is a unique cultural enterprise whose goal is to try to help us all live lives with more meaning and to negotiate the often tricky minefields of work and relationships. Uniquely they also offer a biblotherapy service, where very accomplished authors and thinkers will prescribe a course of reading which will help with negotiating the times when life can be more challenging whether because of career angst or coping with bereavement.These gurus are like personal trainers for the soul and aim to change your thinking and ignite and revitalise your life using carefully selected books as tools.  You can click here to learn more about Bibliotherapy.

Over the next few blog posts I am going to trawl through my shelves and find those books whose pearls of wisdom have sustained me over my life.


Image from The School of Life