Spectator Life

What Spectator writers read on their summer holidays

What Spectator writers read on their summer holidays
Text settings

The flights are booked, the passports are dusted down and it’s time to pack. But which books deserve space in your suitcase? Here, Spectator writers share their all-time favourite summer holiday reads…

Matthew Parris

My all-time favourite re-read at any time of year is Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. A very short novel with the kind of perfection a geometrical proof may command, it starts with the death of a group of travellers crossing a Peruvian rope bridge who are linked only by the fact that they were on the bridge when it snapped, and traces the life of each up until that point. Wilder’s quest is to discover whether there exists any divine plan.

Toby Young

For pure escapism, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is hard to beat. Hayes co-wrote Mad Max, but this is even better. I’m looking forward to his follow-up The Year of the Locust, due in November.

Melissa Kite

Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard is so absorbing there is only one problem: you might get so absorbed in it that you forget where you are and then your expensive holiday is somewhat wasted. I always take a stash of crime fiction and thrillers to read in bed at night on holiday as I’m not a big socialiser. This one had me absolutely transfixed in a gîte in the Lot. I have been reading everything I can find by Leonard ever since. If you like books which give you a window into another world, and where the characters become your best friends, try also Maximum Bob and Stick – glorious summer reads.

Tanya Gold

My book of all summers is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Its premise is that Vlad Dracula - the Impaler, the vampire - is alive, and preying on academics: historians and vampires chase each other across the ancient cities of Europe. It's trash, but worthy, and revenge for all the very boring history books out there.

Rory Sutherland

I am a mass of contradictions in my holiday media consumption. For one thing, I like my films to be serious and my novels to be funny. Which is annoying, as the past ten years have seen a period of mostly silly films and serious novels. The novel I shall probably reread this summer is Tibor Fischer's Under The Frog, possibly supplemented by The Thought Gang (ibid). Plus of course P.G. Wodehouse's The Clicking of Cuthbert, a short story I read several times a year. Who is writing funny novels nowadays? I need to find out – otherwise I shall continue to get most of my light entertainment watching people on YouTube falling off things and driving into ditches.

Martin Vander Weyer

Most of my holidays are spent in the Dordogne – whose people and landscape are perfectly captured in veteran journalist Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police series of thrillers. Bruno is not just an action hero and smart detective; he’s also a thwarted lover and a great cook, every recipe mouth-wateringly detailed. There are 15 books in the series, all great fun, but I’ll recommend Black Diamond (skulduggery in the truffle market) and The Dark Vineyard as tasty starters.

Roger Alton

Ignore the snoots about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: it’s the best adventure ever written, and helpfully lugs around a pile of massive themes – good and evil, love and death, loyalty and courage, and of course talking trees. I first read it on holiday in a villa on Poros and it was so immersive I failed to notice our most glamorous friend had embarked on a passionate affair with the coach of the Greek Navy’s rowing team who lived next door. Tolkien is that good. Lee Child’s Killing Floor is the first of the Jack Reacher books – and the best. Like a lot of once good things, the Reacher franchise has got too big and gone on too long (Pizza Express anyone?), but this is thrilling and unputdownable.

Mary Killen

I know that almost any compilation of William Brown stories by Richmal Crompton can be relied on to deliver happiness directly to me. I would recommend Just William to anyone lolling on a lounger who wants to know how therapeutic it can be to laugh till you cry. This summer I’ve also read Bad Relations by Cressida Connolly. I experienced total immersion in an original tale in which every sentence was so exquisitely readable that it gave near physical pleasure.

Jonathan Ray

I love travelling but – increasingly – hate the journey, which should really be the best bit. So it is that the first thing I pack whenever I go on holiday is Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, my literary comfort blanket. No matter how much chaos befalls me, how much delay and confusion, it will be nothing compared to that which befalls J, Harris, George and Montmorency as they attempt to tootle down the Thames. I can dip in and dip out and never lose my place as I’ve been there so many times before. TMIAB manages to remain so fresh, though, and so absorbing and I still find passages new to me that make me laugh. Although J’s hypochondria and complaining liver (the chief symptom of which is ‘a general disinclination to work of any kind’) both strike a chord, I realise, as Mrs Ray and I struggle through yet another airport, station or other hellhole, I have far more in common than I thought with Montmorency the dog, whose ‘ambition in life is to get in the way and be sworn at’.

Bruce Anderson

For me, the ideal holiday books are long – fewer to carry – and engrossing. Military history usually meets both criteria. I am looking forward to reading Antony Beevor's Russia: Revolution and Civil War 1917-1921. He is an author of the highest quality and I am sure that this will be no exception. C. J. Sansom is an outstanding historical novelist. Tombland is the latest in his Matthew Shardlake series, set amidst the bloodshed and chaos of the mid-16th century. I think they easily outgun Hilary Mantel. Dolce far niente. In neither case is the subject matter remotely dolce, but they will both go well with a competent white wine.

Cressida Bonas

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller is a summer must-read. Heller’s debut novel follows Elle Bishop, on holiday at her family’s home in Cape Cod. Set in a single day, the narrative slides between past and present as she contemplates her marriage after a passionate encounter with a former lover. I was gripped by this love story and Heller's poetic descriptions of people and nature. It's about the complexity of love and marriage and everything in between.

Peter Jones

Most of my holidays have been taken giving talks about the ancient world to travellers on boats, an extremely agreeable way of passing the time but not without its duties and obligations. My reading matter therefore takes me back into familiar comfort zones, guaranteeing irresponsible, honest pleasures on every page, exemplified by P.G. Wodehouse (High Stakes) and Evelyn Waugh (Scoop).