My colleague Catherine has written in her blog about her holiday cottage being supplied with reading material. It came with two bookcases of books, including Robertson Davies (one of my favourite authors) and other literary fiction, country books, and poetry.
I never seem to have that luck. It would be lovely to know there would be a selection of books worth reading waiting for you on holiday. When I rent a cottage there are often some books – usually just a few, and tending to the rubbish end of the spectrum. For some years we used to stay in a cabin in Snowdonia which, for a while had a shelf with some interesting old books about Wales, but when the owner changed the interesting books disappeared.
As a rule I take more books on holiday with me than I am ever likely to read anyway, which is then exacerbated by my buying more books while I am away. Once, quite a few years ago, I had to seriously consider posting a crate of books home as I didn’t think I would fit everything in the car.
At Easter this year we stayed in Calstock in Cornwall for a fortnight (if you’ve never been there it’s well worth a visit); I bought a number of books – some about the locality, some on the history and industrial archaeology of the Tamar Valley and of Dartmoor; and then while we were doing a day’s walk round the Bere Peninsula my son found me an 1883 edition of Tobias Smollett’s ‘Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphry Clinker, Plays, Poems, &c, &c’ (the &c, &c being a Preface and a short and rather boring Life of the author, the plays were The Regicide: or, James I of Scotland [a tragedy], and The Reprisal: or, the Tars of Old England [a comedy]). Having previously read Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker, I was keen to read Peregrine Pickle, but unfortunately (this being before the acquisition of new reading glasses) I found the type, which was 2mm in two columns, too uncomfortable. Instead I read the handful of poems appended, including The Tears of Scotland, written in the year 1746 and about Culloden:
‘Mourn, hapless Caledonia, mourn | Thy banish’d peace, thy laurels torn! | Thy sons, for valour long renown’d, | Lie slaughter’d on their native ground; | Thy hospitable roofs no more | Invite the stranger to the door; | In smoky ruins sunk they lie, | The monuments of cruelty…’
Not as funny as his novels.