Be Careful What You Read on Holiday

I finally cracked and bought an e-reader at the end of last year. If you ask me, the pure joy of reading a ‘real’ book is a total experience that can’t be surpassed. There’s nothing like leafing through the pages, caressing the cover and curling up on the sofa with a good book. However, like so many of the people who’ve succumbed and have embraced the digital age, I’m now completely committed to my Kindle.

I always loved the process of choosing books to take away with me on holiday, but it was always so difficult to whittle it down to a small selection. I’m a very fast reader and given a few days with nothing to interrupt them, can easily bash through a couple of books in a day. The dilemma was always books or shoes? A girl always likes to have a surfeit of both to hand on holiday. So the joy of downloading thirty-odd books onto my Kindle to take on holiday was a real treat. The 1-Click purchase thing is LETHAL!

So far, so easy. And I’m not the best with technology. I still stick Post-it notes to the front of my iPhone because I find the Note App too tricksy. The only thing I find really weird about a Kindle is that they make you switch it off when the plane’s taking off and landing. Why? Does an e-reader really have the power to bring a plane crashing to the earth? I’d be quite concerned if it did. I’m sure the man across the aisle didn’t turn his off.

I will confess that I did take an emergency back-up proper book with me just in case the Will Hold Its Charge For A Month claim was complete tosh. The marketing blah-blah about them working in bright sunlight is right too. They’re very easy to read, hold, love.

However, my choice of reading was a different matter. I don’t like to diss the work of other authors as we all put a great deal of effort into our books. Most of us do, in fact, open a vein and bleed on the page. But sometimes, even as an author, I do wonder what other people see in a book. So of the novels that receive the most critical acclaim are the ones that I just plod through. I can’t bring myself to Name and Shame – that seems so unfair. Like I say, we all try our best and, joyfully, the enjoyment of a book is so subjective. I once lent a friend a book that I’d completely adored and she ripped the whole thing to sheds. Hey-ho.

Anyway, at great expense – more than the paperback price  and don’t even get me started on that – I had downloaded one of the hottest books on the market. It has been talked about for months in the trade. It’s riding high on the bestseller list. It’s the book on everyone’s lips and, in my humble opinion, it was a load of pants. Clichéd story that I’ve read a dozen times before and with more plot holes that a colander. But I am a woman who never gives up. No matter what I think of it, I plough on to the bitter end, always hoping that things might improve. The only book I’ve ever given up on in my life was I, Claudius by Robert Graves. I came close with this. And yet everyone else seems to be raving about it. It must just be me.

Still, onwards and upwards, I moved onto my next book. An award-winning bestseller, nonetheless, also riding high in the charts. Similarly, I can only imagine that the judges saw something that I didn’t. I limped through to the end.  If it has been a real book, I might have been tempted to chuck it in the pool. But with a Kindle, I didn’t think it would survive. Though, surprisingly, my shiny new gadget did withstand a reasonable amount of suntan cream abuse. By now, I was becoming very glad that I’d taken my Kindle and hadn’t lugged these books round the temples and tea plantations of Sri Lanka.

I thought I’d also give a self-published book a go. The advent of e-readers has meant that many writers who have been unable to land a contract with a big publisher – no mean feat, these days  – or for those who simply want to go it alone, self-publishing is the new traditional publishing. The book I chose has been much lauded and the writer is a fantastic self-publicist. I admire her energy immensely. But I was so disappointed in the book. It read like a school essay and had some basic grammatical errors in it that should have been picked up long before it got to the point of being published. Three chapters in and I could stand it no longer. Even though the story sounded quite promising, the quality of the editing – or total lack of it – just made the story unreadable. I’m not just talking about a few typos here which – lets’s face it – now seem to be the scourge of all books,both  e-books and printed. And I so wanted this book to be fabulous. I’m a great champion of the self-published e-book. It gives writers a freedom that they’ve never previously enjoyed. Please don’t waste it! The only saving grace was that I downloaded it for free. A marketing ploy that many readers who are trying to build a readership for themselves are trying. But that only works if your product is fantastic. Readers need to love your first story to go back and buy another and then another. That’s the only way you have a hope of making some money as a self-published writer. If people can’t even read it when it’s free, then they’re certainly not going to go back and pay for a book. So sad, because I could tell that with a flipping good edit there might have been a nice book in there just waiting to get out. People, if you’re going to self-publish, please make sure that it’s of a professional quality.

Next I chose a book that’s become a modern classic by an accomplished author. It’s much raved about and has been made into a stage play and now a hugely successful film. I confess that I’ve seen Woman in Black by Susan Hill seven times as a stage play. Yes, seven. It was when I was a corporate wifey and my husband’s company used to sponsor a touring company. Every friday we used to take along a party of his clients to entertain. By the end of the run, I could have got up on stage and taken the main role. But I wanted to read the book and, eventually, fifteen or more years later, got round to it.

Perhaps the fact I’d seen it performed so much could well explain why there were no frights in it for me. Or maybe it was the fact that I was reading a ghost story set in the windswept up t’north of England while lying on a sunlounger overlooking the India Ocean and sipping a pina colada meant that the atmosphere didn’t quite move me. Don’t get me wrong, the book was really well-written, but there were just no surprises and I wasn’t at all spooked by the spook and, can hardly bring myself to say it, but the ending was a bit predictable. It was also barely a novella. I finished it off in an afternoon and just felt a little bit… well.. let down.  Perhaps I’m just more difficult to scare in print form these days. I haven’t read a book that’s truly frightened me for years. Or perhaps it was jus the setting and I should read it again when I’m on my own on a dark and spooky night with the wind whistling round the rafters. But, of course, I’m still going to see the film because I’ve heard that’s terrifying.

Then I moved onto a historical that had been recommended to me and it was a great rollicking  tale about naughty Nell Gwynne – The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell. It covered her life right from a pretty miserable childhood, to her controversially becoming the long-term mistress of King Charles II. It’s a very interesting read, all very raunchy goings-on in a debauched court, but it’s by an American author and some of the English history didn’t quite ring true to me.  I didn’t quite trust her like I trust Philippa Gregory – who is the Queen of Historical Fiction in my eyes. But it was a jolly readable romp even so.

The saving grace of my holiday reading was a book that I’d chosen just because the cover was pretty. Shallow, I know. But sometimes you just can’t help it. This one was French Lessons by Ellen Sussman. It was a huge bestselling book in the USA but, if I’m not mistaken, it sort of slid out in the UK without any hype or great promotion. Apologies to Ms Sussman, if that’s wrong! It’s Ellen Sussman’s second novel and it was a joy to read. It features three inter-linked stories roughly centred round a few days at a language school in Paris and the relationships that develop between the staff and students. I enjoyed every page of it and whipped through it in no time.  It was a really lovely story  that sparkled along and would make an interesting film too, I think. I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her books in the future.

I think the moral of the tale here is that if you’re going to go on a holiday that involves a swimming pool and colourful cocktails – and I’m not sure that there’ll be any other kind for me now! – then take chicklit books with you. Nothing beats a nice, light-hearted romantic comedy. It’s what sunloungers were made for. Simples. That’s all you need.

So I hope that  some of you will be taking me and Summer Daydreams with you this year.  Whether you’re an e-reader convert or a traditional paperback girl, make sure I’m in your suitcase! And don’t forget to take a photo too!

Love Carole : ) xx

ps: wear sunscreen!


One Response to “Be Careful What You Read on Holiday”

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  1. Liz Broomfield says:

    “People, if you’re going to self-publish, please make sure that it’s of a professional quality.” – thank you for saying this. I tell people this all the time, and not only because I’m an editor myself. So many people seem to think it doesn’t matter, that self-publishing is about throwing your darling up on the internet without going over it, having it gone over professionally … yet I bet they’d be horrified if they got a publishing deal and that’s what their publisher did.

    Anyway, sorry to hear about your disappointments, but it’s nice to know it happens to everyone (I’m thinking of two books myself in particular. One, on a v boring holiday in Menorca, I donated to the hotel reception book pile half way through, then ran out of books and had to retrieve it!).

    I have added all the classics to my Kindle, as I know that even if I tire of the new books I’ve picked up, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice or Middlemarch will see me through!

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