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15 minutes to choose your summer reading

  • LiteraryEditorforTheGuardianNickLezard
  • 17 Jul 2014

With the busy lives we all lead these days, holidays are often the only chance we get to slow down and relax with a good book. But what to read? We’ve asked Nick Lezard, Literary Critic for The Guardian for his summer reading recommendations.


15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: choose your summer reads.

Read this if...

... you want a ripping yarn

Solo by William Boyd. The latest post-Fleming James Bond novel (which outnumber the ones Fleming wrote by about three to one). Bond is a bit nicer than in Fleming’s books, but he still smokes like the proverbial chimney and knocks back enough booze to stun a hippo, while entering the murky world of African civil wars. (This one based loosely on the Biafra debacle of the late 1960s.) A very good piece of literary ventriloquism, with a great baddie.

... you want a classic ripping yarn

Goshawk Squadron by Derek Robinson. This year we celebrate - if that is the word - the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and this classic story of a typical Royal Flying Corps squadron strips away the myths of chivalry and patriotism with wonderfully grim humour. Robinson was in the RAF himself, so he knew what he was talking about, and in this, his first novel (they’re all reprinted by Maclehose Press, and are all worth reading), he produced something which you could call the British Catch-22.

... you don’t want to feel left out

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. The author of The Secret History has finally come up with another, after 11 years. The point is not whether her new one’s any good (although it is, if you want a long, immersive novel with a work of art at its centre): the point is everyone is claiming to have read it, or be reading it. You’ll also have a decent chance of finding this at the airport bookshop. It is also extremely large, so you might be able to slip something smaller inside it which is more of an enjoyably mindless read. You won’t be the only person doing this, I’ll bet.

... you want a rom-com

I can’t vouch for this personally in the way that I can for (most of) the other books in this list, because I lack the necessary extra X chromosome that lets you appreciate the genre, but I hear that Marianne Kavanagh’s For Once In My Life is the one that’s being talked about. It’s about two 20-something Londoners who you think at first are destined for each other but turn out to have picked the wrong people to marry.

... you want to look very clever

Journey By Moonlight, by Antàl Szerb. While the Hungarian name might look forbidding (get the pronunciation right: it’s “Ontal Surb”), it’s actually a lovely story, a multi-layered comedy about a dreamy intellectual who steps off a train on his honeymoon for a coffee and then has it set off without him. When this was finally translated into English about a decade ago it became a cult success. In Hungary, it is considered the only book that you simply must read, and everyone who has read it in English has loved it, too.

... you want to not miss out on economic trends

Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Pinketty. If you’re in business, you probably already know that you’re going to have to have at least a nodding acquaintance with this if you want to keep up in conversations among your peers around the pool. Rather you than me, but it does sound rather impressive, and timely, even if it is unavoidably full of graphs and long words. Not for nothing is economics known as “the dismal science”. You may want to follow the sneaky advice outlined in the entry for The Goldfinch, above.

…you want a book that takes you round the world

Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess. It’s massive, and brainy, but surprisingly very readable indeed. This was on everyone’s must-read list when it failed to win the Booker in 1980, and it has one of the best opening lines ever: "It was the afternoon of my eighty‑first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me." Takes you on a tour of all the 20th century’s key events, with outrageous wit and panache.

Nicholas Lezard writes a weekly book column for the Guardian, and is the author of The Nolympics and Bitter Experience has Taught Me, which he would recommend himself for your pleasure if he were shameless, but he isn’t, so he won’t. Much.

Read more #SMART stuff

The Business Traveller - a handy guide to Hong Kong
#Smart interview - interior design guru Kelly Hoppen, MBE
The Luxury Traveller - smart tips for upgrading your trip

Author: Nick Lezard

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