Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Holiday reading


Aside from good food and new sights, one of my favourite things about holidays is the opportunity to read. I mean reading in huge chunks and not coming up for air, the way you devoured books as a kid.

All the beautiful scenery and lots of games of travel scrabble meant I only got through four (!) books this holiday. Picked slightly randomly the stories which dealt with things like relationship break-downs, depression, car crashes and domestic abuse perhaps weren't all ideal 'holiday' reading (something of a tradition of mine - I read the Jean Rhys biography while on a beach in Crete), but all come recommended. Maybe don't read them back-to-back though.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward ended up in my luggage thanks to it being the Domestic Sluttery book club book. You can read more about it over there but basically it's a series of short stories, each based around a different painting or photograph of a girl reading. The final story then attempts to draw them all together but, probably purposefully, leaves more questions unanswered than it solves. My interest in the book really varied story to story - I loved the Victorian spiritualists while all the contemporary references in the Shoreditch story made me want to gag a little.

Not pictured is Manhattan, When I Was Young, a biography by Mary Cantwell. Cantwell worked for Mademoiselle in New York in the 50s. It's less about this apparently dream lifestyle and more about her depression and the breakdown of her marriage. Beautiful and heartbreaking, she uses the apartments and the houses which she lived in to structure the story, capturing a now lost Manhattan. Her and her contemporaries are adorably in thrall to the glamour and excitement of Paris, and one of the episodes sees her and her husband, a book editor, flying over to meet with Alice B. Toklas.

Toklas and Gertrude Stein also appeared in my next book, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, the fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley. If you've any interest at all in that period, it's completely fascinating and it made me want to go back to A Moveable Feast again to read Hemingway's original account of the episodes used to form The Paris Wife. His extreme masculine pigheaded self-righteousness made me want to throw the book across the room on quite a few occasions. Urgh.

Finally, The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles took me back to New York, this time in the 1930s. The story of Katey Kontent, a young flapper, it's something of a flit through jazz age society that's striving towards some greater point. Quite often unbelievable, frequently hilarious and never anything less than engrossing, I read it in its entirety on the plane home. London looked even greyer and duller by comparison by the time I finally looked up from the page.

And now I'm stumped for what to read next. I want something absorbing to get me through the rainy days and ever-longer evenings. Any suggestions?

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