Do you want to explore the human condition, without heavy academic textbooks and bland philosophising? Then you need How to Be Human: The Manual, Ruby Wax’s new book for deep thinkers who like a side-order of laughter with their psychological revelations. This is the kind of book you could take on holiday and binge-read on a plane, or dip into as you try and fail to settle into ‘holiday mode’, because How to Be Human will explain why you can’t fully switch off, and why you’re struggling to feel compassion for the champion seat kicker who ruined your flight.
Unfortunately, this post is a mammoth one, because the more I thought about the paperback books you should travel with right now, the more I remembered why I liked each one so much. I mulled over favourite lines and clever themes, and it became harder to cull the synopsis for each of these tantalising reads.
I chose paperback books because, not being an e-reader fan, this is the way I like to read on holiday – preferably no hardbacks, unless they’re lightweight. A decent paperback copes much better than a hardback with being flung in a handbag or rucksack for an adventure, possibly covered in sun cream or snacks, and these four key paperback recommendations (along with four more titles for further reading) will keep you gripped until the very last page, wherever you are in the world.
One of your greatest holiday reads for 2017 doesn’t have many words, and the pictures are dated, but I promise it’s a work of utter genius: enter Postcard from the Past, extracts from genuine postcards sent by British holidaymakers in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, decades full of cramped car journeys, discovering Spanish resorts, and trying to get a tan by covering yourself in cooking oil.
Holidays were still expensive, and there was no such thing as a budget airline or a Megabus, so getting a postcard from someone’s travels must have been pretty exciting. Imagine, for a second, how you’d react when this came through their letterbox from a friend or relative: ‘I can’t explain what it’s like here. So I won’t bother.’ Hopefully the sender didn’t go on to present travel documentaries…
Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day and, for as long as I can remember, this leads to annual news stories not just about commemorative events, but about the ignorance that a lot of us have around the Holocaust and everyone affected by it.
For a prime example, see the idiotic posers at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, called out by the brilliant Yolocaust web project, which has now been taken down after mixed but generally positive feedback.
Sadly, anti-Semitism has never totally disappeared. There have been reports of Holocaust survivors being abused in the street and, in a cruel modern twist, Jewish Twitter users being targeted and mercilessly trolled because of their religion and heritage. Even Google search results have been manipulated by the far-right.
There’s so much to tell you about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau that I’ve split this into two posts: first the emotional side of things, then the practical side. It’s important not to let logistics overtake the reasons you’d want to visit: to learn, to pay respects, to remember, and to pass on what you’ve seen.
My mum and I arrived on a cold but sunny March morning and joined a group tour with an official guide. This was what we discovered under bright blue skies.
What to Expect
Auschwitz I looks less like a traditional camp and more like a forlorn housing estate, because it used to be an army barracks, whereas Birkenau’s low wooden buildings were stables for horses before they housed people, and the brick buildings came later. Life goes on around the camps, with houses and businesses on their very fringes, and signs directing you to KFC. Monowitz-Buna, one of the satellite camps, was based further away and doesn’t exist anymore, but our guide pointed it out from Birkenau as laying beyond the two industrial towers in the distance.
There’s nothing like the joy of finding a great pre-loved book – set me up in a branch of Oxfam or a car boot sale and I’m happy as a sandboy, browsing through the goods. I also find they make great souvenirs when I’m travelling (not so much souvenirs for other people, as not everyone appreciates a dog-eared Penguin classic when they were hoping for a nice fridge magnet). Over the last few years I’ve been on quite a few bookish adventures, and these are some of the best…
As the centenary of the Great War approaches, it’s fair to say that things are already hotting up on the tourism and publicity front.
Whilst I unfortunately missed the WWI talk at World Travel Market last year, due to clashes in my schedule, I did manage to pick up some poppy seeds from the Visit Flanders area and I will be planting them (despite my not-so-green fingered gardening ‘abilities’) in an effort to bring a part of this very real, global event home – I think that offering poppy seeds is a great marketing tool, but also a really personal way to get people involved. After all, the Great War was something that touched the lives of normal citizens and changed the future and fortunes of a whole generation.
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter had me at the multi-layered imagery on the outside – I was hooked before I’d even turned over to the blurb, let alone before I’d began to make my way through the novel itself. Just like the cover, the plot was composed of layers, and it also flipped backwards and forwards in time and around the world. What sounds chaotic and clunky actually is, in actuality, a story that becomes almost impossible to put down and perfectly evokes Italy in 1962.