Beach reading book

Ex Libris // recommended reading: good books for beach breaks

I am a voracious reader. I usually have at least two books on the go at any one time (currently The Death of Bunny Munro and The Great Gatsby again *sigh*), and I love talking about them almost as much as I enjoy reading them.

With this in mind, and as holiday season is coming up, I’d thought I’d arrogantly suggest some books you could consider for your vacation reading. It’s not the usual chick-lit or ultra light beach fare; these stories actually pull you in and mean something once you get there.
I wish I’d written every single one of them. Not least of all because I’d be ridiculously rich.
Anyway, shove a few of these inside your suitcase. Hard.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

My absolute, all-time, nothing–to-top-it, favourite book in the world. I read it every year as soon as winter is coming and the weather gets bad, there is nothing more pleasurable than reading this book on a stormy night. It’s got it all: brooding hero, untameable female, doomed love, foppish husband, death, birth, ghosts, moors, Kate Bush. Ok, not the Kate Bush bit, but please if you’ve never read this book, do so immediately. You’ll pine for a love like that, star-crossed as it may be.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Please ignore the hideous film. Sofia Coppola would get such a slap from me for completely ruining a book I love. I read this when it first came out in 1993, and I was so blown away by it that as soon as I finished I turned back to page one and started it again. Beautifully haunting, you really care about the characters and for me personally, the ending was very hard to accept. If that’s not a well written book, when you’re crying over people who never actually existed in the first place, then I don’t know what is.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Recently made into a fucking horrible adaptation by the Beeb. What is it with people in TV and film insisting on ruining my favourite reads? The story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Sugar, a young Victorian society prostitute who catches the eye and heart of a middle-aged businessman. This book is so descriptive that you find it easy to create the visuals, and I’m so happy that I read it before seeing the televisual mess it became.

If you’ve only ever watched it (sorry), just try to put it from your mind before reading the book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Harry Potter for grown-ups. Magic, and an entire alternative history of magic all created in Susanna Clarke’s mind. I’d like to climb into her head and dip a cup into her thoughts before drinking it down. Sick perhaps, but if you could choose a new imagination, I’d want hers. Epic brilliance does not begin to cover this novel. If they make a film of it that isn’t up to my exacting standards, I will systematically hunt down and punch everyone involved.
Note: This book is HUGE. Perhaps best for a holiday at home as you don’t want to be lugging it around with you.

In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

This is actually the true story of the true story that inspired the story of Moby Dick. It centres around the sinking of the whaleship Essex in 1820, following a whale attack… oh god, the bitter irony! I enjoyed this thoroughly, some parts (like the cannibalism… yup, I said cannibalism) turn your stomach, but it remains fascinating right to the end. As books about maritime history go, this one is as interesting as it is horrifying. DO NOT buy this if you’re going on a cruise. In particular, a whale spotting cruise.

Anything by Stephen King

I mean literally anything. I’m very much a King fan, and he cannot be topped for horror in my opinion. It’s not just the scares you get from his books; they are so brilliantly well written that there is never a dull moment like there can be in a lot of other books. Everything is building up to something, you sense this the entire time and it keeps you edgy. His short story collections (Four Past Midnight, Everything’s Eventual, Different Seasons etc.), would make great holiday reading.
Let’s not forget, this is the man responsible for The Running Man, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He gives good story.

If novels aren’t your thing, allow me to suggest few great biographies. How thoughtful am I? Welcome.

England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams

The life of Lord Nelson’s mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton. I originally only got this because I discovered she was born in Wirral (my part of the world), but my goodness what a fascinating and ultimately tragic woman she was. I became a bit obsessed with learning more about her after reading this book, which is probably the best review I could give.

Killing for Company by Brian Masters

Confession: I’m fascinated by serial killers, and to be fair, most of us are. We all have a ghoulish side and I’m admitting to mine right here.
I read a LOT of true crime books, and this one is all about Dennis Nielsen. He murdered 15 young men between 1978 and 1983 in London, and this account of his life leading up to the murders, and the murders themselves, is so utterly compelling that I read it in a day. That day was spent on a coach to France and I didn’t even notice the journey. If this kind of thing is your ‘thing’, then I also recommend Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, and Fred & Rose by Howard Sounes.

The Moon’s a Balloon/Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven

These books are actually autobiographies, Niven’s memoirs of his early life, plus his years during the golden age of Hollywood. There are few books that have made me laugh until I have tears running down my face, but these two are absolutely hilarious. Fascinating tales of some of the biggest names in film history, including the priceless shenanigans of Niven and his partner in crime (and alcoholism), Errol Flynn.
Keep your Katie Price and Peter Andre guff – read about a true legend getting up to the kind of craziness those talentless nobodies can only dream of.

If you’re going for two weeks, they should keep you occupied as you fry gently on the beach. I will not be held responsible for excessive sunburn you may suffer as a result of being too distracted by any of these stories.
That’s my arse covered, as yours should be. In a high factor sun cream! Badum-tish! *groan*

If you do happen to try any of my recommended books, and you find that you don’t like them, I’d love you to get in touch with me here. We can discuss what you think, and I can then explain why you’re completely wrong.
Have a lovely holiday x


  • Comments

  • avatar

    Blimey, those fictional choices are fantastic (in that they’re almost exactly what I would have picked myself). I’m off to find my copy of In The Heart Of The Sea that I’ve never got around to reading as I’m guessing I’m gonna LOVE it. Cheers x

    • avatar

      Fantastic! Please let me know what you think, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did x

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