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Photo: Getty Images


What we're reading on our sunloungers

From Marian Keyes to Sali Hughes, The Pool's contributors share their holiday reading

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By Sam Baker on


On the flight out I read Diana Nyad's extraordinary Find A Way, before carefully ripping all of my favourite pages from the proof and reading the highlights again during Brexit's Darkest Hours. After a couple of days of frenzied news reading, I found great solace in my advanced copy of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (out November). Set in antebellum Georgia, its tales of struggle, resilience, and kinship amidst horrific racism helped give me a fresh perspective on current events as well as being an utterly transporting piece of storytelling. Finally, I treated myself to Nicci French's Saturday Requiem, the latest in their exceptional Frieda Klein series. The last novel had felt like a little lull, but this was back to cracking pace, and reading their gorgeous but gritty descriptions of London via kindle from a Portuguese beach was strangely moving, particularly when I didn't know what sort of a country I'd be coming home to.



Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain has been on my shelf for well over three years. However, in autumn, Ang Lee has a film of it coming out starring, quite possibly, the best actress in the world, Kristen Stewart. Telling a depressingly familiar story of soldiers resettling in the US after fighting in Iraq - I have to read it before they bring out the film poster edition, when it'll seem, embarrassingly, that I have only discovered the novel this year. Next in the bag is a novel that isn't out yet, but when it does appear, it will be the most controversial of the year. Jonathan Safran Foer's books to date have told sad stories whimsically. The new one is about explicit sexting, divorce and, well, headlines-incoming, the destruction of Israel. It is called Here I Am and will be out in September. Finally, one for the toddler: What Do Grown-ups Do All Day? by Virginie Margand. As with my own choices, we are still sticking to actual books, not ebooks, and this one is a glory. Beautiful illustrations of, you guessed, adults doing jobs. From soldiers to people on a farm, I have no idea what my son understands, but he likes pointing at things, so it should keep him busy as we have the third gin.



I’m really looking forward to Philippa Gregory’s new book Three Sisters, Three Queens. I don’t know what it’s about – probably three sisters, who also go on to be queens – but the details aren’t important. Philippa Gregory writes consistently great historical fiction, always from the point-of-view of women, who are involved in the dirty political games of the time, sometimes as pawns and sometimes as power-brokers. A new Philippa Gregory book comes out every August and I usually start anticipating it  around the middle of March. I feel like I’m the only person left on earth who hasn’t read any Karl Ove Knaussgard yet and after reading the first ten pages of A Death in the Family, I have to admit I’m not exactly looking forward to it, it’s more that I wish I’d already read it so I’d know what the fuss is about. I hate feeling left out. But! I’m going to persevere. I mean, there was a time when I was a bit sneery about Elena Ferrante and now I’m obsessed with her and Karl seems to inspire the same fervour that she does and I’m always on for a bit of fervour. The reviews of I’m Not With The Band by Sylvia Patterson have been glowing. As an NME journalist she’s interviewed everyone (Madonna, Beyonce, Prince) and apparently writes with great humour and honesty. Woven through the stories of famouses are accounts of her personal life, such as growing up with an alcoholic parent or trying to survive on next-to-nothing in London in the eighties and nineties.


For holidays, I always pack a new novel, an old novel as back up, and a non-fiction in case neither grips me. My taste in non-fiction leans towards the gritty, and so Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, seemed right up my alley. I will confess to a borderline obsession with Scientology and with cults in general and this, the book that inspired the brilliant documentary of the same name, pulls no punches and leaves no stone unturned in its meticulous takedown of the church. For fiction, I took Nina Stibbe's Paradise Lodge, which I have to read for an upcoming event she and I are doing together, but I'm delighted I had an excuse to push it to the top of the pile. It's the story of 15 year-old Lizzie, who takes a part time job in an old folks' home and soon finds herself embroiled in a turf war with a rival care home. It's typically hilarious writing from Stibbe. My something old came from Brian Moore, whose The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (formerly called Judith Hearne) has been on my to-read list for years. It's a beautiful story of a middle aged, alcoholic spinster who has wasted her life teaching piano, going to church and being laughed at by her community, but who begins to wonder if there's a better future to be grabbed. The writing is so economical and steeped in repressed emotion, that I felt tearful on several occasions. I thought I was all sorted for my recent holiday in Cornwall when just as I was packing up the car, the postman arrived with a pre-publication copy of the new Jilly Cooper, Mount! Which threw the whole plan into chaos, obviously.


Here's how much fun I am to holiday with: the book I'm really looking forward to reading on a beach in Pembrokeshire is one about the lunacy gripping American politics. I still can't get my head around how Donald Trump has got this close to power and while Kate Zernike's Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America is from five years ago, it's all about the kind of incoherent rage Trump is tapping into. But my soothing treat after that will Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton, which I've been wanting to read for ages - about a daughter and the mother she hasn't seen for years, forced to confront their shared past. And finally I'm packing Tessa Hadley's The Past, about four grownup siblings brought back together one long hot tangled summer together. And the one thing I'll be leaving behind? The Kindle. Since we're not flying I don't have to worry about the weight of what we're taking - which means the luxury of proper thick paper books, crunchy with beach sand between the pages. Perfect.


I took Do Disrupt on my last holiday, because the element of ‘play’ it had to it. You are invited to scribble in it, which feels perfectly naughty. Its sentiment is to help you form ideas, that are non-conventional in a real and confident way. It’s not really, one to ‘switch off’ to, but I found scribbling away in this soothing. Shappi Khorsandi’s debut novel, Nina is Not OK, is a moreish read, depicting a young woman’s life, who’s seen as wild but one day works out that during a drinking ‘blackout’ something that has happened is 'NOT OK'. Shappi’s writing is raw and connective, we just don’t read enough from a young woman’s perspective on blow jobs or booze or fraught parental relationships. Lorali by Laura Dockrill is a twisted, YA (Young Adult), poetic fantasy tale of mermaids and pirates, set in the world of the now, the now being fanatical on social media, the now being a feast of street slang and cultural reference points. Lorali is a bit of trip and I love how Laura takes you on it. I’ve always loved her writing - she’s proof YA novels often take risks that others don’t.



When I was a kid, Smash Hits was my Bible and the music writers were my heroes, so Sylvia Patterson’s I’m Not With The Band is top of my list. Patterson, who also wrote for The NME, Q and Word Magazine, hilariously recounts life on Britain's Brightest Pop Magazine (TM). Funny, anecdote-packed, nostalgic but also very touching. I came to Bossypants by Tina Fey very late and loved it, despite the fact I’ve never actually watched 30 Rock (I know). Part-autobiography, part-manifesto, the chapter about her ill-fated honeymoon is one of the funniest things I've ever read. Jackie Collins is a holiday must-pack. WHAT? I won't hear a word against Jackie. Though I must admit, I read Hollywood Divorces on kindle. Her books are indulgent, ridiculous, cliche-ridden delights. Her Hollywood characters are always fun to try and identify - and whenever she uses italics to denote someone's inner monologue, you know they'll turn out to be a crazed puppy killer.


One of the true pleasures of a holiday is the chance to abandon your phone for the first time in months and read a physical book. All devices can be left upstairs as you discover that books don't break when you accidentally spill sunscreen all over the pages. My first read was Eve Babitz' memoirs, Eve's Hollywood, a gorgeous, seedy, funny, creepy collection of essays about the author's life in LA. She's famous for being Stravinsky's goddaughter and having her photo taken playing naked chess with Marcel Duchamp, but there's so much more to her than that. Imagine Nora Ephron was alive and writing lyrics for Lana Del Rey, and you're a quarter of the way to understanding the appeal of Babitz' stunningly seductive prose. I’d been frightened of Siri Husvedt's What I Loved for ages, because I believed it was going to be very dry and literary. I gave it a go because I'd been reading Lydia Davis' poems, and learned Davis had been married to Husvedt's husband and was the mother of Husvedt's stepchild Daniel Auster, a friend of the notorious artist and Club Kid Michael Alig. (Alig is infamous for his role in the death of drug dealer Angel Melendez, and although he was never charged, Auster is believed to have been present throughout the event.) What I Loved takes that gloriously gossipy, gruesome sequence of events and turns it into an elegant compelling story. I also took PG Wodehouse's A Damsel In Distress, because I'm never not in the mood for Wodehouse and his comedy just doesn't date. It's his typical territory, jam packed with interfering aunts, vague, tweedy lords, passionate poshos and scheming staff.


The three books I have packed for my holiday in St Ives are actually just two books, because packing was the usual last minute scramble of trying to work out how much camping gas is left in the bottle, trying to squeeze everything in the car and having the obligatory pre-travel row. So my intention to buy Weathering by Lucy Wood came to naught. I bought her collection of short stories, Diving Belles, in Cornwall a couple of years ago and was entranced by the knowing, seaside magical realism of those stories. I do like to read a book set in the place I’m visiting, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to get it from the rather lovely St Ives Bookshop while I’m there. What I will be reading is Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney. The 2015 Costa winner, this ticks a lot of boxes for me: set in my native Lancashire, it looks like an ambiguously spooky tale of the lost and desolate coastal places I was forced to visit as a child. Perfect for the beach. I’m also bringing Cold Hand in Mine, a collection of short stories by Robert Aickman, who is truly one of the most underrated writer of weird fiction - or any sort of fiction, come to that - Britain has produced. Not horror, not fantasy, but somewhere in between those dreamworlds and our walking life; like Shirley Jackson, Aickman builds tension and the feeling of dread and an unnerving sense that you don’t know quite what you’re reading.


As well as all the upcoming books on my TBR pile (below), I see holidays as an opportunity to catch up with things I really wanted to read but didn’t get around to. Top of that list was Emma Cline’s debut, The Girls. Set in the scorching Californian summer of 1969, it tells the story of 14-year-old Evie Boyd. Her parents newly divorced, she finds herself at a loose end, until she falls in thrall to hippy, skinny, charismatic Suzanne. But Suzanne and the girls who surround her are in thrall to Manson-esque cult leader, Russell. And it’s not a spoiler to say they’ll do anything to please him. Set in a different but equally cloying American summer, The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel (out 11 August) is a hefty slice of deep south gothic about what happens when lawyer Autopsy Bliss places an ad in the local paper inviting the devil to small town Ohio. Mainly though, I was feeding my crime addiction. My big find this summer was Sabine Durrant. I started with her new novel, Lie With Me, partly because it was set in the sweltering heat of a Greek island, and so was I. Then I downloaded her backlist and devoured the lot.



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