Monday, 10 March 2014

Reading in the Sun

When I was ten I went on holiday abroad for the first time. And so I became acquainted with one of the greatest of life’s pleasures, namely: reading in the sun next to a swimming pool. Ever since those Elysian days, I’ve been trying, one way or another, to recapture the sheer self-indulgent carefree joy of lying on my back on a towel, holding up a novel until my arms ache, taking a dip to cool down, and starting all over again.
So when it was recently suggested to me that I could save space by taking an e-reader on holiday this year instead, I shuddered. No chance, pal. I want a suitcase full of battered books. That’s the whole point. I’m no luddite guys, honest, but bear with me while I take three key images of childhood holidays camping in France and expand on them a little by way of explanation.

Image one: melting paperbacks with black covers

You’ve never done this? C’mon. It’s formative. You’re reading a novel with a black cover – usually Stephen King or James Herbert I seem to recall, though my Fellowship of the Ring was also black – and you splay it open face down on the dashboard of your parents’ car. Park the car – a green Capri – in full sun for three hours or so; go and play table tennis with your brothers or something; then return to find the binding-glue has completely evaporated in the baking heat and your book has become a cracked and melting spine inside which are clotted sections of pages still stuck together like little mini novels, usually no longer than eighty or a hundred pages each. You can shuffle them about and read the book in the wrong order. It’s ace.

Image two: sand between the pages

…which empties out into your sleeping bag as you dip back into a book you’d been reading on the beach earlier that day. The scene is this: it’s late, but still light. You’ve got a torch with a knackered battery, and you’re reading. It doesn’t matter what time it is. It doesn’t matter what’s happening tomorrow. You’ve no mobile phone or internet connection – you won’t have for another twenty years – and you’ve haven’t seen a telly for close to two weeks. You’re utterly calm, centred and carefree; so much so you happily recline in the sand rather than brush it all out. That night, you sleep like a log.

Image three:  swollen and bloated books

Choose an appropriately epic summer read – the key here is to make sure it’s already a whopper. Then leave it near a source of water and engage in the kind of vigorous play which usually frightens other kids away from the pool. Return to your reading spot to find your novel, sopping wet, has warped and inflated into something close to twice its size. Dry it in the sun and the pages get stuck with a pleasing ripple, never sitting flat again. The spine arches into an inverted U shape. When you get it back home, it won’t fit the slot you withdrew it from; it looks like you’re trying to put Lennie Small in your bookcase.

Seems strange writing this now, it being early March and all, but praise be the sun’s been out for two days now. I know there’s rain on the way. There always is. But here’s hoping we get a hot one this summer - a long, drowsy and endless sequence of books by the pool.

Oh, and e-readers? Get lost.

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