How to solve the mystery of holiday reading? Make like Poirot and stay true to your real selfby Caroline Crampton / July 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
Packing to go on a summer holiday is a special kind of fantasy. No matter the destination, selecting the possessions to take on the trip is a way of deciding who to be on this break from real life. Who among us hasn’t slipped the slim volume of poetry and the running tights into the suitcase, choosing to believe that even though they never get touched at home, somehow on holiday we will become the kind of person who reads blank verse in bed and knocks out 5km before breakfast?
The books we choose to pack are key to this. High on too many “summer reading” lists, for years I would weigh down my bags with wholesome, worthy tomes I hadn’t got round to reading in the 20 minutes between getting into bed on a wintery weeknight and falling asleep. I was convinced that my holiday was the time when I would finally become someone who could get into Dryden’s translation of The Aeneid, or zip through the latest well-reviewed novel.
Of course, this never happened. My real holiday reading preferences were moulded by what could be found on the shelf at the bed and breakfast. The Dryden would never make it out of the suitcase because instead I was deep in a dogeared Agatha Christie. I found that I gravitated towards the titles where the detective is themselves on holiday. There was something very appealing in reading about a sleuth’s attempt to masquerade as a relaxed, easy-going individual, who is then forced to reassume their own character in order to solve the case.
I wasn’t the only one, it seems, who couldn’t pull off the trick of escaping from everyday life. Eventually, after rereading Murder on the Orient Express on the third trip in a row, I had to be honest with myself. If I was only going to read detective fiction on holiday, I should at least equip myself properly. I haunted eBay and the British Library’s gift shop full of reissued classics before departure to stock up. Now, whenever I travel, my suitcase is pleasingly full of alibis, weapons, clues and red herrings.
The escapist qualities of a good vintage…