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What makes for a perfect holiday read?

books on holiday What makes for a perfect holiday read?

Yesterday on RIASS author Dee DeTarsio shared her bookish travel habits, and a number of our readers chimed in with insights about how they go about choosing books to take with them on holidays. Both Dees post and these comments started me thinking about my own holiday reading, and about why it is that the books I choose to read on holidays are quite different from those Id read at home. So what makes for a good holiday read?


(Yes, Im aware that that word is even worse than unputdownable, and not even vaguely a word in its own right.) When flicking through the list of books Ive read since flying out on my honeymoon, one thing stands out: all of the books Ive read thus far have been light books with clear chapter breaks. Their plotting is strong and simple, meaning that they can be put down after reading only a few pages or so, and then picked up again with easetheres no need to retrace my readerly footsteps.'Compare this with a book that has a sort of slow burn build, where themes and mood are emphasised over plot. These books need to be pored over at length rather than quickly dipped into.


Ive done the nerdy thing of attempting to read books from certain countries in situ. I managed a bit of Hesse in Germany, some Boccaccio in Italy, and some Proust in France. Note the theme here: a bit.'Lets just say that Im still stuck on the asparagus urine passage of Proust (thats about page 84), and have been since 2007.

All of these books were utterly brilliant, but theyre hardly appropriate travel material unless you have a long-haul flight ahead of you or have a few days where you can sit quietly at the back of a museum taking in some of that literary goodness. (Or youre a much more scholarly person than I am.) The need for simplicity in a holiday read twins with the putdownability point above: a holiday read neednt be utter brain candy, but given that holidays are often about escapism, a wee bit of the same in a book is often warranted as well. Literature class can resume when Im back in the office and in the right mindset.

No depressing themes

Wars, invasions, revolutions, mass murders and so forth are a no-no. The same is true for anything that has harrowing blurbed on the front cover. Also anything involving an airline disaster.

but travel and adventure themes are awesome

Who doesnt want to pretend to be an intrepid explorer when in a foreign place? To dream of the finding of treasure, the exploring of new cultures, of starting anew somewhere entirely different? Mysteries, romances, and light historical novels are also perfect holiday reading material for this book blogger.

No cliff hangers

If Im going to be in a country where the English language literature section is limited, then the last thing I want is to get the end of a book only to find that its a cliff-hanger. This is a pet peeve at the best of times, but when Im somewhere where I have no chance of picking up the next in the series (and because I dont like being burned as a reader will on principle refuse to buy a copy from my Kindle), well, grumpiness will ensue. Loosely connected series, however, are more than welcome.

Physical totability

My Kindle has saved me a fortune in excess baggage fees over the past year or so, but there is that frustrating wait for the seatbelt signs to go off before it can be used, meaning that I have to have something in paperback to read with me (lest I be left alone with my own mind for twenty minutes or sofar too long for your average Gen Yer). I will never, ever take a hardcover or a trade paperback with me on a plane. Nor anything with thick cover stock. When it comes to travel reads, the more cheaply and dodgily printed the better. In addition, a whole bunch of thin books are better than one or two fat books. Thinner books can be discarded as I travel, and the rest of the bunch can be packed away in my checked luggage rather than lugged around in my backpack.

These are just a few of the things that factor into my holiday reading choices. How about you? Would you tackle Proust whilst on holiday? Do you enjoy reading depressing stuff when away from the rat race? Or do you think, perhaps, that hardcovers are great because they can function as hand weights or a stable table in addition to a book? Bonus points for naming your favourite holiday reads!


  1. Depends on the kind of travel. I dont want a book that will get me so hooked Im reading instead of watching the landscape. Something I can read on the plane, yes, and at bedtime. The last time I travelled I didnt have an ereader, but it will come in handy next time. I like a reread of something comforting, but which I can put down when I have to.

    • Stephanie /

      Great point, Sue! Something that you can dip in and out of, or happily put read in one go when youve got the time is probably a good pick. Not to mention something thats light enough to carry around!

  2. Im a total weirdo with my travel reading, but then Im a total weirdo with my reading anyway ;) And I travel more frequently, so I suppose that adds to it as well. I tend to pack a lot of random non-fiction. I would agree with you on the putdownability though, which may be part of why I go for non-fiction. I definitely try to read local books too though, but maybe newer ones, or random non-fiction titles :)

  3. I would agree with you on the putdownability though, which may be part of why I go for non-fiction. Thanks for sharing..

  4. I travel rarely and when I do its not usually more than a couple of hours from home, but when I do I usually go for something light that doesnt require too much attention. Since I am always accompanied by four kids and hubby when I do go anywhere I need to be able to put down the book without too many regrets. Usually I choose to go with romances, chick lit, something that will make me laugh and the occasional YA title. I always have both my e reader and a couple of print books with me

    • Stephanie /

      I can imagine that you might end up losing your train of though a few times with four kids and a husband around, Shelleyrae! I tend to go for light reading, reading about the place Im visiting, or a book that Ive been meaning to read but have been slacking off on!

  5. Great post Stephanie. Im having this dilemma at the moment, I am off to India in 7 weeks and have been trying to decide what books to take. Ive previously taken way too many books while backpacking and my back really paid the price for it, so this time I want to pack lightly.
    I am definitely taking my kindle, but i also want a paperback handy in case there are places where i dont really want to be flaunting my electronic device. I think a small thin book is a good suggestion and then i can just trade it in and get another one. I love visiting used books stores overseas and picking up books that have travelled around the world.
    I hope you are having an awesome time!

    • Stephanie /

      For small, thin books, I definitely recommend those dodgy old Penguin classics from the 60s and 70s. They have tiny print, so they pack a lot in to a small volume!