Very annoyed with the idiot who wrote in to the Guardian complaining about the ‘Summer reading’ recommendations, and taking issue with the idea that people might want to read more serious books than the latest Jilly Cooper on their holidays. Sorry, but I can read Jilly Cooper on the bus while being elbowed by some gangsta teen – aren’t holidays a good time to get some decent reading done, of things that one normally doesn’t have the time to concentrate on?
Conversely, I read trash when I’m stressed and busy although I’m trying to break the habit – two good trashy historical books I have read recently are The last kingdom and The pale horseman by Bernard Cornwell, which are set in the time of Alfred the Great and are about the struggle of the English/Anglo-Saxons against the Danes. These are the first two of a trilogy about Uhtred, a Saxon who due to a twist of fate is brought up by Danes. Cornwell also wrote a brilliant trilogy about a Dark Ages King Arthur, and it’s interesting to see what he makes of England four hundred odd years later. His trick of giving historical characters a twist – in the Arthur books Lancelot is an out and out villain; in these Alfred doesn’t seem quite so great – is very endearing, and his good research shows. I didn’t enjoy the Viking books as much as the Arthur ones – I thought he did a brilliant job of depicting a world in which people still believed unreservedly in gods and magic, and his Dark Ages were splendidly muddy and bloody – but they were a jolly good read nonetheless.