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The Holiday reading list: or who are we kidding?

The ritual of choosing (and deluding myself about) holiday reading is one of the great joys of going on holiday. it is second only to the sheer fun of choosing a pile of reading and music for the Christmas season.

I don’t do sprawling beside the pool holidays by choice and I don’t do beach holidays (I am usually afraid, even having lost a pile of weight, that some short-sighted trawler will mistake me for an edible whale and then harpoon me.)  So my quantum of reading time is necessarily circumscribed by the fact my inner five year old is being let loose on another collection of medieval cities, frescoes, byzantine era mosaics and general gorgeousness, and the momentary savour of the reading will wait for a few hours.

My favourite holidays are cycling round bits of Italy  or Spain that I haven’t been to. (I wrote off a bicylce cycling round Monte Subasio to Assisi when the brakes failed. Either Saint Francis was looking after me or the Almighty was hoping for a bit more peace and quiet before I came round disturbing things.)

I love discovering Italian and Spanish cities – especially the medieval bits.  This is – like every year –  a “walk till I drop” holiday, of long days enjoying the city and leisurely evenings spent being thankful.  I am already anticipating the sixth century Ivory throne in the museum at Ravenna, and the mosaics in the basilicas so green, purple and white that they could have been laid yesterday.  This year Bologna (the City in whose railway station an insalata is not a salad but a cheese and ham croissant) Ravenna, Modena and Ferrara beckon. 

And all good holidays need some good reading, or so someone who should have known better once decided.

So, it’s that time of year when I look at the five foot and growing pile of unread books in the study and think – “which of you lot do I take with me in order to kid myself I am going to read any of you?”  I give up and put the kettle on instead. Fortified by procrastination and two cups of tea [one lapsang souchong, the other apple and cinammon] I clean the floors, scrub the bathrooms, dust the entire flat, offset the carbon I will use up in flying then go for a walk and then finally return to the pile resolved to sort this thing.

I savour the possibilities of which twenty items I will take. Then I ask who I am trying to kid…me, the airline or my rucksack?  So I think through:

  • The book to read while on the plane. (Honestly? One cup of tea and a plough through every journal article I can lay my hands on later will be followed by fallng asleep for about half the flight, before spending the descent reading the in-flight magazine ( in both languages  depending on the airline) as a vocabulary building exercise;  topped off by making a really bad decision to find and then fiddle with my Ipod – sorry iPod –  for the remaining two minutes before we are told we are about to land.
  • The theological or historical tome to read while sitting on trains rushing ( or pootling ) through the Italian countryside to that day’s destination. (Continuing the vein of honesty I will do my usual of raiding the newstand and bookshop near the station and buying newspapers, the Italian edition of Scientific American [Le Scienze], The Jesuit Bi-Monthly La Civilta Cattolica and devour these on the train instead.
  • The leisurely evening read. (Then I remember they have bookshops in Italy which are still like bookshops were here when I was an undergraduate.  And I always end up buying stuff while there.  Some schlock horror Italian giallo crime novel will be chosen, or another volume in the series of modern theologians I love reading.)

So, as usual, into my patient and long-suffering rucksack goes a selection of more or less randomly chosen items:

  • The collection of medical and scientific articles which I will plough through over breakfast and on the plane. This year I’ve taken a collection of papers on health inequalities and policy change culled from The Lancet, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and a host of others. A collection of 27 papers I will read and reflect on with relish. Including the special issues of JECH I picked up at the World Congress of Epidemiology earlier this year.
  • Volume 2 of the works of Teresa of Avila – our Carmelite group is continuing the study of this amazing woman in preparation for the fifth centenary of her birth.   I also slip Rowan Williams’ amazing study of her in. I would finish this but for the fact I re-read every chapter several times.
  • Nancy Krieger’s Epidemiology and the People’s Health – this should be on every trainee’s reading list
  • A slim volume on evidence synthesis which I will get through in one train journey
  • The New Testament
  • If I have been there before, my little black city book – favourite cafes, galleries, museums, haunts, bus routes, restaurants and so on to my last place of holiday.

 The Journey Back also brings the pleasures of reading, but that’s another story.

If you have had your time of renewal and refreshment, I hope you enjoyed it. I intend to thoroughly enjoy mine.

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