The papers are full of ‘what to read on your summer holidays’ lists. The format is ubiquitous; ask a range of writers, politicians and other media regulars what reading matter they are taking to the beach, up the mountain or into the back garden for their summer reading. The answers range from the light and frivolous to those that suggest the pundit has forgotten how to have fun (heavy classics, political diaries, that sort of thing).
The inference is that none of us has enough time to read during the rest of the year, so the summer holidays must be assigned a sort of reading ‘homework’ to make up for time lost. I’m sceptical about such lists. They tend to be peppered by the new titles that have hit the bestseller league tables in the previous 12 months, or the headline from the publisher’s press release that has risen to the top of the inbox of whoever edited the feature in this week’s travel supplement (did I mention that I am sceptical?).
As someone who does a lot of reading for work and pleasure, the idea that I should spend my holiday catching up on reading time makes me feel the opposite of relaxed. My preferred holiday reading includes the local paper of wherever I am staying. My favourite local newspaper is the The Orcadian, in which the Orkney poet George Mackay Brown used to write a weekly column. Its reports of life on the island outposts of our own country speak volumes.
Take one of this week’s headlines: ‘Police seek information regarding bike theft’, above the tantalisingly brief story of a grey mountain bike which vanished from a street in Kirkwall. There is also a leading article on the renewal of a goose management project ,which makes me want to know more about the fate of geese above the skies of Orkney (how? where? why?), and a picture of an impressive prize winning ewe called Killer Queen. Such glimpses into the small dramas and triumphs of local life, and what counts as news in such places, get my imaginative juices going.
I like to re-read old favourites on holiday too; my annual read of The Great Gatsby often happens during August, as well as dipping into Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. New reading can take place on winter evenings, the commute to work and weekend breaks. The summer, I think, is for enjoying the open air, scanning the horizon, splashing about, freeing the mind and letting the imagination play.
I’m sorry to consign the travel supplements and review pages to the recycler, with all their suggestions and recommendations, but if I haven’t got round to reading it during the rest of the year, I probably won’t when I’m away.
Am I alone?