Spectator by Seema Goswami: Turn the pages

Published on Nov 25, 2022 09:55 PM IST

It has become a ritual of sorts

Wherever you are headed, remember to pack some books that are just right for that place. It will make your holiday better (Aparna Ram)
Wherever you are headed, remember to pack some books that are just right for that place. It will make your holiday better (Aparna Ram)
BySeema Goswami

It has become a ritual of sorts. Before I set off on holiday, I gather all my book recommendations (from friends, newspapers and magazines, or even from social media), make a short list and then download around five or six books on my Kindle in the hope that they will see me through my vacation.

This time I was heading to the Maldives and needed something that I define loosely as beach reading. In my case, that usually means a cracking murder mystery, with a plethora of suspects, a couple of twists that I don’t see coming, and a killer (sometimes literally) denouement.

So it was that I settled down on my sun lounger and clicked on a book cover that read The First Day of Spring. It had been highly recommended by two of my favourite authors, Clare Mackintosh and Paula Hawkins, and I was all set to be hooked. A couple of chapters down, though, I began to get a queasy feeling. This was not the comforting murder mystery that I was looking for. This was a horrific story about an eight-year-old girl who kills a two-year-old baby boy. As the sun grew warmer on my back, the story in front of me got darker and darker. And even though I could tell this was a good book, it was a bad book to read on the beach. So, I clicked it shut (telling myself I would finish it back home in Delhi) and opened the tried and tested Anthony Horowitz. This one, A Twist Of The Knife, was a story about murder as well but in the Agatha Christie genre in which nothing particularly gruesome happens and the plot is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction after a few twists and turns.

See, that’s the thing about books. There is one for every mood, for every season and every locale—and indeed for every holiday.

The last time I visited Venice, for instance, I set myself the task of re-reading every Donna Leon I possessed before I set out. Her murder mysteries are set in Venice and I had the greatest time following her detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, as he sets out from his home to go shopping in the Rialto, eats tramezzini in small cafes along the way, interrogates suspects in Castello and Dorso Duro and pays a visit to his aristocratic in-laws in their palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal. I pored over the maps of Venice included in the books until I could find my way in the city as easily as Brunetti himself.

It all paid off once I arrived in Venice. I knew my way around like a local, knew which touristy areas to avoid and where I could find the best food and drink. And all because I took the time to read an author who lives and breathes Venice.

I had similarly immersed myself in Peter Mayle’s Provence series of books (start with A Year In Provence and work your way up) before heading out there for a vacation. Even though his books are written from the perspective of a man who has moved into a new place and is trying to make himself at home there, there was enough in the books to give me a flavour of the region and to get me in the mood to sample some tapenade and pastis.

I often wonder which books I would recommend to people who were visiting India for the first time and wanted to get familiar with it before they arrived on shores. Well, here’s a short list, if it helps. Those visiting Mumbai can’t go wrong with Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, which gives an accurate flavour of that megapolis. If you are trying Delhi for the first time then William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns is a good place to start. And if you are heading to Jaipur then get a sense of the history of the place with John Zubrzycki’s The House of Jaipur.

But wherever you are headed, remember to pack some books that are just right for that place. Trust me, it will make your holiday even better.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, November 26, 2022

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