Books and beer … the perfect holiday combination

By 27th February 2014 Blog

camelI’m just back from a week’s holiday in Lanzarote, having felt the need for some warm weather training ahead of writing my next novel. Well, if it’s good enough for footballers, then surely writers deserve the same treatment? Seven days in the sunshine, sitting by the pool with a beer in one hand and a book in the other … life doesn’t get much better than that.

Okay, so it wasn’t actually a book in my hand – it was about one hundred and forty-five, since I had my Kindle with me. My year of reading more books only confirmed what I already knew – I love books. I really do. I love the feel of them, how they look. Before I lost my sense of smell, I loved their odour too. I will always come down on the side of the physical book rather than the e-book. But my Kindle has become a regular holiday companion, not least because it gives my luggage allowance a healthy boost.

I’ve always been curious as to what other people read, and being on holiday usually allows a glimpse into the reading habits of my fellow sun-worshippers. People read more on holiday. I’m sure that, for some people, it’s the only time of the year they pick up a book. I try not to pass judgement on anyone’s reading choices, not even the year when every second person seemed to be reading the autobiography of Katie Price (Jordan). Okay, so maybe I did sit at the hotel pool thinking that I was better than everyone who was reading that book but I never said it out loud, and that’s got to count for something.

But it’s more difficult now because of the increase in electronic devices – mainly Kindles and iPads – so people could be reading anything – porn… sorry, erotic fiction, Mills & Boon, maybe even a Katie Price novel, which is surely an oxymoron! In a Daily Telegraph column, literary critic Tom Payne offered an interesting perspective on why we read on holiday, including a short, but fascinating, history lesson.

‘We are evolving into a species that reads on holiday. We want to travel light, but to expand our minds. It has taken us years to reach a point at which we can do it well. As with so many advances in civilisation, the Romans had almost achieved what we have, only for their progress to be eclipsed by the Dark Ages. They had travel scrolls, and Martial mentions that huntsmen would pack them into string bags. Scrolls were tricky to read anywhere except at home, preferably at a table, but at least our forebears tried. These matters became easier with the invention of codices, which had pages.

‘By the sixth century, St Benedict of Nursia could prescribe that his order of monks took a book with them whenever they went on a journey. Some scholars went to great lengths to make literature portable: Abdul Kassem Ismael, the 10th-century Grand Vizier of Persia, travelled with 400 camels following him, each in alphabetical order, to bear his library of 117,000 books.’

While I often marvel at the wonders of twenty-first century technology that allows me to carry hundreds of books in my hand, it suddenly seems less impressive compared to Abdul Kassem Ismael and his four hundred camels trudging through the desert in alphabetical order… and he needed more camels since the Persian alphabet has thirty-two letters. Apparently the Grand Vizier was such an avid reader that he couldn’t bear to leave home without all his books – I know the feeling – although it must have been a nightmare finding all those grains of sand between the pages.

I read a lot of books during my week in Lanzarote – seven in total, which included one that I was already halfway through when we flew out from Glasgow. The highlights were the first two books in Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy (of which I’ll write more later). Suffice to say, now that I’ve returned to sunny Scotland, I’ll be starting the third and final part of the trilogy straight away, and going back to a good, old-fashioned paperback too.

My new book, Read All About It: My Year Of Falling In Love With Literature, is out now.

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