What does someone who reads for a living do on their holidays?
I work with books because I love books. Reading is what I do and what I love to do.
I don’t know the habits of others in the book industry, but on holidays I find a nice comfortable spot and read. I don’t move much but I travel far.
So what have I been reading?
I generally play catch up in my holidays. I seek out the books I wanted to read but had no time to read because I was busy reading other things. Occupational hazard. Books like Nutshell by Ian McEwan, which for some reason I never got to. A short, fun, intelligent read. And Smile by Roddy Doyle. Not so fun, but great all the same.
And I try to get ahead, too, by reading a few advanced reading copies. I just had to read Tracy Sorensen’s The Lucky Galah because of all the pre-publication buzz and because it is narrated by a galah. Yep, a galah. You’ll want all your books narrated by a galah after this. And The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland for the same reason, a lot of buzz, that is. Sadly no galah. Both have gorgeous covers and both live up to the hype.
And then there’s Tim Winton. His new novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, is out in March and it’s something special. But you may need a stiff drink on finishing it. And a hug. Probably a shower before the hug, you’ll be stinky. In my opinion they should just give Winton the Miles now and be done with it. Read my review here.
Just before my holidays I read an advance copy of The Only Story by Julian Barnes, which might just win him another Man Booker Prize. I don’t have the words to describe how intelligent and wise this novel is. I’ll have to read it again before I even try to review it. In short, it’s better than The Sense of an Ending.
Because I was still in the thrall of The Only Story, the first book I read on holidays was an older book by Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot. I’d read it before, ten or so years ago, but back then, I didn’t think much of it. Present John is mortified by Past John’s failure to appreciate the book. It is sublime. But then, according to one interview I read, Past Julian Barnes failed to recognise the brilliance of E.M. Forster. We live, we learn. As to Flaubert’s Parrot, anyone interested in writing, reading, parrots and/or Flaubert should read it now. Today. This instant. My brain automatically associates it with The French Lieutenant’s Woman, another sublime book.
A book that everyone who loves books, reading, bookshops and hope should avoid reading is The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. This book nearly killed me and I take a lot of killing. I should have heeded the warnings. It starts bleak. The middle is bleak. I should have guessed the ending, but there is something stupidly optimistic about me and I read on. Why did I read on? Be warned, a little novel called The Bookshop is bound to be as attractive to you as it was to me. It’s a Venus flytrap for book romantics. Snap!
Thankfully I picked up How to Stop Time by Matt Haig soon after. It is only pretendy bleak. Much nicer. And very enjoyable, too. Because the main character lives for a very long time we get to see human life from a different perspective – the long view – and the conclusion is – we aren’t that shit, really. Which is nice.
You know when you start a book and you aren’t really that interested but you read it to the bitter end anyway? That’s what I did with House of Names by Colm Toibin. I don’t know why I kept turning pages, but I did. Then it ended. There is nothing wrong with it but I can’t recall anything right with it either. It was a nice little hardcover. I’m a sucker for a nice little hardcover.
I ended my holiday with a gem, Judas by Amos Oz. This is a book by a grown up for grown ups, which I pretended to be for the duration. A novel of ideas. Don’t come to Judas for shits and giggles you will leave empty handed. But if you’re willing to take things slow, to enjoy the slow rhythms of the story, to notice the slow subtle changes then you will come away enriched. It’s bleak but good bleak, there’s a difference.
As the curtain fell on my holiday, I reached for To Become a Whale by Ben Hobson. I always thought I’d like this debut novel but never got around to reading it. Which is a shame, because it is a beautifully written novel with a strong and consistent sense of itself. Every detail feels true and the story shows its hand slowly. An great achievement for any writer, let alone a debut author.
And that was my holiday. I travelled to Suffolk, Surrey, Ancient Greece, Ireland, South Pacific, Israel, Queensland, the coast and the interior of WA, France and NSW. I was a foetus, a galah, a very, very, very old man, a young girl, a messed up Irish man, a young boy, a slightly older boy on the run, a university student, a middle aged woman, a middle aged man, a queen, a princess and a prince.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a reader, too, so I’m sure you’ve found my holidays were not too different from your holidays. Just a different collection of books and a different collection of adventures, probably.
Readers read, that’s what we do.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.