The perfect holiday reading

Summer 2006; Cannes; Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy. Theoretically, a great idea. It had sand, it had heat, it had shovelfuls of atmosphere and, most importantly, it had a subtle, desert-hued cover that would proclaim my intellectual nous (the only way I can compete with the Chanel-scented, artificially enhanced racks and abs cavorting along La Croisette is with my taut, toned cerebellum). The sentences were longer than my caftan. It nearly bloody broke my wrist. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff – The sweat! The blood! The monosyllabic profundity! The brother-love that dare not speak its name! – but by page 1034 I was taking breaks every thirty-minutes to douse my brain in the saccharine sorbet of my friend’s Marian Keyes.

Lesson one: no trilogies.

Lesson two: especially no trilogies tinged with claustrophobic insanity.

Summer 2007; Spain; Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Now, my usual reading material is determined by a teetering pile of expectant paperbacks beside the bed, of which the lower layer is now several years old and starting to smell of hamsters. So holidays are the only real time that I buy new books. And when I buy new books, I always get stricken by guilt at how little American literature I read. And when I feel stricken by guilt, I go to extremes. So I was aiming for a historically important, politically trailblazing, linguistically startling masterpiece; and in The Jungle I got historically important, politically trailblazing, linguistically startlingly masterpiece about really poor, desperately hopeful immigrants slowly transforming into really poor, desperately hopeless outcasts, with a garnish of blood, mud and tears.

Lesson three: stop with the American literature guilt thing.

Summer 2008; New York; Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. I know, I know, but what else could one read in New York? My suitcase was channelling postmodern Chandler broad – louche shifts, high heels and a tube of Mac’s Russian Red - so Auster’s postmodern detective meta-mysteries were the logical choice. Of course, in the half-hour windows between days spent marinating in thirty-degree-Celsius culture and nights spent marinating in whisky sours in dank Lower East Side bars, the only thing I was capable of reading were the instructions on the back of the blister plaster pack.

Lesson four: really, stop with the American literature guilt thing

Lesson five: really, no trilogies tinged with claustrophobic insanity.

Summer 2009; Maldives. The trip to Baros was a surprise, so in the absence of enough time to meticulously analyse, poll social media and spend hours in Calder’s, I grabbed whatever was on my bedside table along with a bunch of Waterstone’s 3-for-2s. So: 15 back-dated New Yorkers. 1 English Vogue. 1 US Vogue. 1 More!, stolen from the plane. Zoe Heller’s The Believers. Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. C J Sansom’s Revelation, again, because I found it in the bottom of my suitcase wrapped in a towel. And finally, luxuriously, defiantly, unself-consciously, Marian Keyes.

Lesson: learnt.