For some reason, reading just did not happen for me for large parts of the Spring and Summer this year. I have no idea why, it just…didn’t. However, I’ve been on a couple of holidays recently and I did manage to squeeze a bit of reading in whilst I was away. So here are the books I’ve read whilst I’ve been on my holidays this summer.
Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger ***** ¦¦ This is the book I’m reading in the picture above, on our balcony in Santorini. It’s a memoir by Wilfred Thesiger, a man who deeply identified with those of nomadic existence and also liked to be by himself a lot. Therefore, the so called Empty Quarter which is located in modern day Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen called deeply to him. This book tells the stories of the epic journeys he took across the empty quarter in the 1040’s, journeys which no westerner had ever taken before. I loved his great mix of descriptive writing, character studies of the people he met, and historical notes; however what I really liked was that he kept the pace going so you never became bogged down by narrative. I think this is a truly excellent piece of travel writing and I highly recommend it.
As a sidenote, there’s a fair amount of white, Western, upper class male privilege going on in this book but for some reason it doesn’t seem quite so offensive as other books written by similarly white, Western, upper class men around the same time.
Among the Mountains: Travels Through Asia, Wilfred Thesiger **** ¦¦ Having enjoyed Arabian Sands so much, I thought I’d try another Thesiger for size. This book follows his journey through the Hindu Kush and various mountain ranges in Central Asia. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first, and I don’t think Thesiger enjoyed the travels contained within this book as much, either. The writing felt a lot more fragmented; a series of observations (some more disgruntled than others) with little to tie them together. His disappointment in the temperament and perceived character of the people he meets is evident, and you can tell he just doesn’t feel the kinship with the people he meets – potentially because he couldn’t speak their language, unlike in Arabian Sands. I still enjoyed the book though, because the events he writes about with complete nonchalance are pretty astounding.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby ***** ¦¦ In Travels Through Asia, Thesiger mentions (in one of the more enjoyable chapters) his encounter with Eric Newby and his walking partner, Hugh Carless. By Thesiger’s account they were an amusing pair, totally inequipped for their journey and in pretty bad shape when they met up with him on the slopes of a mountain somewhere in Nuristan (now Afghanistan). So of course I had to read the book by Eric Newby which tells his side of the story – annoyingly, left until the very last chapter. Still, I didn’t mind because this book was hilarious. Eric Newby has a flair for writing and a bitingly dry wit that made this a joy to read. It was interesting to contrast his observations with those of Thesiger, but mostly I found myself chucking along to this very honest account of his travels. I’m definitely going to pick up more of his books after this.
Sidenote: the levels of white, Western, upper class male privilege is pretty high in this book too but I’ll forgive him because his writing is hilarious and pretty self-aware.
The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin *** ¦¦ I think I’m a bit late to this party, but here’s the book everyone was raving about at the end of the last decade. Gretchen Rubin spends a year trying out various tactics to make her happier and reports back on her progress. I liked that she was so honest about everything that happened, so it stopped just short Pollyanna territory. Some things she talks about were probably quite revolutionary at the time but are now well known in this whole post-lifestyle blog era that we now inhabit, so felt a bit old hat. Seeing as this book is nearly 10 years old I think that’s fair enough. I found this enjoyable enough, and whilst I haven’t incorporated any specifics into my life from the book I am looking at things a slightly different way, which I think is worth a fair bit. Oh and I’d recommend the podcast she produces weekly with her sister, as well. It’s called Happier with Gretchen Rubin in case you want to have a listen.
Truly, Madly, Guilty, Liane Moriarty ***** ¦¦ This book was quite slow to get going, but once it did the punches just wouldn’t stop coming. This book stayed with me, and that’s always a good sign. The plot centres around one momentous event and the effect it has on the people who were involved. I’m being vague because I don’t want to give anything away, and I wish the momentous event was revealed a little earlier in the book because it got a bit hard going for a chapter or two, but the end was worth it.
Rachel’s Holiday, Marian Keyes *** ¦¦ And now for something a little lighter…ish. This story follows a Rachel, a drug addict in denial, whose family have sent her to a treatment centre in an effort to get her clean. It’s amusingly written whilst showing you just how fine the line is between not having a problem, and having a huge problem. And how a lot of people don’t realise they’ve crossed it. Some of the ‘lessons’ felt a bit trite, but this managed to cover a lot of ground without coming across as preachy or judgemental. It passed the time on a sea day just fine.
Lovestruck in London, Rachel Schurig ** ¦¦ I can’t remember how I found Rachel Schurig’s books, but I loved reading her Ransom series and I was looking for a similarly light-hearted, fun book. This definitely fit the bill in that respect, but this was just too much of a departure from reality for me. A couple of things niggled; firstly, it felt very much like that classic 90s genre of nerdy girl being recognised for the true beauty that she is by the cool guy, complete with transformation scene where she takes off her glasses and braces, piles on the makeup, has her hair straightened/curled (whichever is the opposite of her natural hair), and is suddenly a supermodel. It’s been done before; plus it’s really unfeminist. And secondly, there are a few noticeable errors in this book due to the fact it’s set in London but the author is American. I understand she did spend some time in the city to write the book, and some errors I can forgive, but I’m convinced she didn’t have an actual British person proof read the book, and that seems like an obvious oversight to me.
So that’s what I read on my holidays. I quite like the balance of genres I had in this tranche, so I’m going to try and keep up the variety in my next lot. I’m currently reading In America: Travels with John Steinbeck by Geert Mak and so far, it’s excellent.
What have you been reading?