How to decide what books to read on holiday

Some people get excited about the sights they’ll see on holiday. But if you’re anything like us it’s all about the books in your suitcase.

Grab the suncream and rummage around for your passport: holiday season is upon us. But among the frenzy for digging out the sunglasses and swimming costumes, working out airport transfers and lining up excursions, there’s a crucial bit of holiday admin that absolutely can’t be overlooked: what on earth are you going to read?

We’re the people who take five books away for a three day trip and make stops at bookshops between beach trips. We know the importance of getting your holiday reading right, and this is what we’ve learned about how to go about it:

Play lucky dip with your bookshelf

If you ascribe to what the Japanese call Tsundoku - the habit of buying more books than you can read - then this should probably be your starting point. If you don’t want to cheat, request the company of a responsible friend to blindfold you and make sure you’re not going to knock over a lamp, then pull out some books from the shelves and make a holiday selection that way. Not convinced it has Next Book Energy? Then there’s a good chance you should be making a new home for it

Be guided by the geography

Even if you’re the type to hit up the local museums, immerse yourself in the regional cuisine and learn a little of the language, reading a book based in the country or area where you’re taking your holiday offers a whole new dimension to travelling - whether you’re on a minibreak or a gap year. A copy of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem for a Californian road trip, for instance, or Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan for a jaunt to the south of France. Need some inspiration? We’ve several guides here, from Tokyo and Hanoi to Cape Town.

Tackle a classic in translation

Some bookworms love to make the most of all that spare time to really crack a classic. But rather than sticking to those familiar favourites from the English canon - Dickens, Bronte, Trollope - why not branch out and tackle a classic in translation? These masterpieces from other literary heritages can be less well-known, adding an extra air of discovery to your break away - and you can always pair the location of your trip with an author from that region. Check out our list of the 20 must-read classics in translation

Finally read the one you’ve been meaning to read all year

You know the book we mean: the one that has been whispering to you from the bookshop tables and your well-read friends’ Instagram stories. The book that everyone else keeps asking if you’ve read. Just buy/borrow/download it already, and join in the conversation.

Delve into one author’s back catalogue

Perhaps you’ve discovered a new author you absolutely adored recently, and want to read more from them. Perhaps you’ve decided that now really is the time to tackle Jane Austen. Reading several books by one author in one go is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in their work, understand how their style changed and glean a real insight into their world view. Not sure where to start? Check out our guides that tell you just that, from Bernadine Evaristo to Philip Roth

Seek recommendations from your well-read pals

If there’s one thing well-read people like more than reading books, it’s talking about them. So don’t be shy! Hit them up! If they’re anything like us, they may well fire back with more questions - what do you like, where are you going, what kind of thing are you after? - but together you’ll uncover a little something you’ve never heard of before, or something you’ve been meaning to read for ages but haven’t quite got to - yet (see above). If you’re really lucky, they may send you packing with an armload of loaned books, and the kind words that it doesn’t matter if you get sand between the pages.

Tick off the award-winners

Fancy being au fait with the Booker longlist? The Desmond Elliot Prize? The Orwell-acknowledged? Now’s your time! Get involved with those heavy-hitters. After all, they’ve been vetted and awarded by some of the finest minds in the business - it’s probably the best tip-off you could get.

Indulge in an impulse airport buy

Either, you’ve turned up at departures and realised you’ve not got anything to read, or you’ve turned up at departures and realised you don’t have enough to read. In any case, some of the best holiday reads we’ve had were found at the airport: that impulse purchase of Zadie Smith’s Swingtime that carried us through a week in Tokyo, for instance, or a punt on the latest Lee Child that spawned a full-blown Jack Reacher obsession. Airport novels? Sign us up. 
Read more: On the distinct charm of the airport bookshop

Read the one you find where you’re staying

If you’re staying in a holiday home, AirBnb or even one of the fancier hotels, chances are there will be a couple of paperbacks hanging around. Sometimes they will be wonderful, sometimes they won't, but chances are there will be something different from what's on your shelves at home. You may discover an author you've never read before. Love a book and want to keep that good karma going? Leave one you've brought with you behind.

Image by Ana Yael for Penguin.

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