Choosing books to take on holiday

Holiday time. Time for sunshine, and sand in uncomfortable places. Time to crack open a book, or crack into a stack if you’re feeling ambitious (and/or unthreatened by luggage weight limits).

So how do you decide what to take? Guess what’s coming. IT’S A BUNCH OF TIPS.

Don’t go overboard on virtue

Don’t pack five man bookers that you hate but you WILL read. This is the literary equivalent of courgetti and crossfit #readclean #intellectualRIGOUR.

Just take one (per week). One solid, wholesome officially endorsed Good Book™. The kind of book that provokes long essays, maybe a ‘classic’. This book is your rewarding struggle, and better to struggle on a beach or by the pool than rammed in someone’s armpit on the tube.

Balance out the Good Book™ 

In case you take a mental beating by the Good Book™, you’re might want an easier read to hand. This doesn’t mean trashy romance. Take a book that has a good story (hello Agatha Christie) or an old favourite.

Explore the back catalogue of so and so 

Got one book you love and you’ve never had chance to read more by the author? This is your chance. Make them your travel companion.

Use a Kindle

I’m usually a committed fan of paper, but a Kindle means freedom to take more books and download more books if you run out. The only negative is your can’t dry it out if you drop it in the pool.

In the aim of practicing what I preach, here are the books I’m taking away.


  • More Tim Winton (Aussie genius, lots of scorched earth, rolling seas and complex relationships)
  • More A.M.Homes (SO good at describing tortured souls, sharp, (darkly) funny writing)
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (The Good Book™)
  • The Rendezvous, Daphne du Maurier (The good old-fashioned story)

Not this time –

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (I love it, I love her, I love that people are loving it at the moment, but maybe a fifth read is a bit much)
  • Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon (it’s MASSIVE, saving it for when there’s no weight limits)
  • The American Future, Simon Schama (I generally read a lot of non-fiction, having a rest)

Anyone got any holiday reading recommendations? Got your own strategy for picking books? Set that comment box to work.

The Quiet Magic of the Happy Reader

Once every 4 months something comes through my letterbox that doesn’t simply land on the doormat as a brief stop off on the journey to the bin. It’s a magazine called The Happy Reader.

past issues of the happy reader

The Happy Reader is a ‘Bookish Quarterly’ that has found a place somewhere in between the posturing of instagram #bibliophiles and #booklovers and the sombre scholars of review magazines. It takes the best of both worlds, no doubt thanks to it being a collaboration between Fantastic Man and Penguin, and combines a meticulous attention to design with a focus on what’s ultimately important: reading.

Each issue (there’s only been eight) is split in two, the first half an in depth interview with a famous figure about books, the second half a series of essays on topics loosely related to the book that’s the focus of that issue. The topics these essays have covered include: a history of recent volcanic events (Issue no. 4 – The Purple Cloud), the symbolism of Big Ben (Issue No. 7 – Mrs Dalloway), an investigation of the diatribes of Alex Jones (Issue no. 8 – O Pioneers!) and an ode to Barneys, the department store (Issue no.5 – Au Bonheur Des Dames). The short pieces of writing form a delightful pick and mix, made all the sweeter for following a deep reflective interview.


It’s creators have pulled off a clever trick – The Happy Reader is both of books and not of books. It certainly feels more intimately connected with books more than any other magazine: reading it feels much like browsing in a well-stocked bookshop, you’re never sure quite what you’re going to pull off the shelf; the paper it’s printed on feels closer to the pages of a paperback than the glossy sheen, or stiff matte, of its contemporaries; its typeface is a serif; it’s the size of a large hardback.

But The Happy Reader, thankfully, is not trying to be a book, just bookish. Which means we get clever, unique additions that exploit the freedom of the magazine form, like the Snippets page, small alongside-the-text notes and versatility in colour and design.

the happy reader interesting bits

One of the frequent notes you find scattered through the pages of The Happy Reader

Perhaps the other significant admirable quality of The Happy Reader is its restraint. Its website is spartan, it has no ‘social media presence’, no ‘You’ll never guess the ending to this book!’ articles. It simply hasn’t put workers on the crowded content-factory floor. Perhaps this is because of budget (there are no lurid designer ads inside), perhaps it is a play to the increasing nostalgia for things that are physical and enduring. Either way it’s refreshing: here is a magazine that feels perfectly crafted for readers.