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Travel forces us to disconnect – as in, quite literally pull the plug – from the screen-centric trappings of modern living. Phones, laptops, tablets and anything else falling under the “electronic devices” category are to be switched off, shut down, cut out.
Don’t lament this loss – embrace it! – and use it as an excuse to be reacquainted with a good old friend called Book. That’s the inspiration for Paper Trails, a new series that celebrates the quality reading time travel affords us, whether you’re near-repose in a hammock or neck deep in a 12-hour flight.
This month we’re going to the beach with books about or set beside the sea. All you have to do is pick your genre.
THE CRIME THRILLER
In addition to tightly spun mystery, the novel offers pure escapism by way of the author’s fantastic sense of place. The beauty of the southern Sicilian coastline and the magnificent food encountered by characters are so richly evoked you can very nearly taste ‘em.
The latest instalment in Camilleri’s acclaimed series introduces Liliana, a beautiful woman in danger from someone bearing an apparent grudge, while a bomb has exploded outside an empty warehouse, inviting the open-ended mystery as to who or what the bomb was intended to destroy. Enter Camilleri’s appealingly crusty, gastronomically-inclined detective Inspector Montalbano who pieces together threads of the case while being pulled under the spell of Liliana. Cue mafia connections, cocaine kingpins and the food – my god the food!
Park yourself under a tree with Montalbano and the gorgeous and crime-rife shores of Sicily.
It’s 2047 and earth is in the aftermath of nuclear war. A small community of survivors on the Californian coast attempt to rebuild what kind of pastoral existence they can eke out, as the country faces an imposed quarantine of 100 years. Does our narrator Hank and his fellow après-apocalypse teenager buddies accept their fate or pursue a path of greater resistance?
An absorbing, meditative novel with a great cast of characters, The Wild Shore creates a believable vision of America’s future and is widely considered a classic of the post-apocalyptic science-fiction genre.
Maybe attempting to shoehorn the chaotic life of the Beach Boys linchpin, Brian Wilson, into a list of beach-flavoured reads is a little tenuous. But we defend the decision for three reasons:
1. Brian Wilson is almost singlehandedly responsible for the sound analogous of sunny Southern California and its surf culture – they weren’t named the Beach Boys ironically;
2. Like any decent travel book, this memoir transports the reader. In the first instance to Cali’s beaches circa the Sixties, then into the tragically tortured psyche of one of America’s great songwriters;
3. As a tell-all rock and roll tome, this is a curious one. It is widely believed to have been ghostwritten by Eugene Landy, the psychiatrist who was responsible for pulling Wilson from the brink with his invasive therapy style in which he controlled every aspect of Brian’s life, on a 24-hour basis. Landy later had his licence revoked for ethics violations and professional misconduct.
Get in before the release of Wilson’s follow-up book and biopic Love & Mercy, both out in 2015.
THE DELICIOUSLY SLEAZY NOT-SO-GUILTY PLEASURE
Step into Miami’s sexy, hedonistic heyday of the 80s and 90s where colourful characters meet salt-teased pastel hotel facades by day and neon lights by night.
In this compulsively readable psycho-sexual coming of age tale with models, bookies, performance artists and the relentlessly absurd, we find twenty-something trust fund baby Gabriel discover the funds paying for his partying have been blown by an uncle.
From here the good stuff happens, as Gabriel intersects with a cauldron of colourful humanity and era-specific references in a furiously entertaining piece of writing that’s hard to put down. Add it to your list.
THE CULT HIT
The Beach – Alex Garland (1996)
This is the novel that preceded Leonardo DiCaprio’s shirtless turn as a backpacker who encounters pleasures, paranoia and poisoning in paradise for Danny Boyle’s 2000 movie adaptation – one that triggered a tourism juggernaut upon the once-untouched archipelago of Koh Phi Phi.
Note that the book’s a real cut above the film.
Taking cues from literary touchstones of the genre like Heart of Darkness and Lord of The Flies, this absorbing, druggy thriller is a cautionary tale about the damage done by the imposition of Western civilisation upon sanctuary we seek. It sounds preachy in theory, but the message plays backdrop to Garland’s page-tearingly riveting storytelling.
It’s a twisted adventure, sharply funny but pitch dark, and one that transports you right to the island’s hypnotic humidity and Eden-like tableau. Best enjoyed on the beach, naturally.
SHORT AND SWEET
Jonathan Lethem is a storytelling virtuoso in general, but he’s a master of truncated prose. His latest collection of short stories makes for great holiday reading – there’s no huge cerebral commitment required, just open in fits and starts between your other leisure activities.
They are all terrific, but the story that landed Lethem’s compilation on this list is “Their Back Pages” about characters from forgotten comics that are stranded on a desert island.
One of the greatest novels set at sea. Hemingway won both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for this stirring fable about an ageing Cuban fisherman and his elemental battle with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream.
It’s a wonderful story, dense with fierceness and humanity. And at just 127 pages it shows the powerful economy of Hemingway’s writing.
REAL LIFE ADVENTURE
Before there was Bear Grylls and all those other primetime pretenders, there was Norweigan adventurer and academic Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Peru to French Polynesia on a hand-built balsa raft.
The total journey took 101 days measuring almost 8,000 kilometres in distance, and Heyerdahl’s vivid recollections of the expedition are intermittently harrowing, epic and awe-inspiring. Warning: Sufferers of Aquaphobia (the fear of being surrounded by water) best sit this one out.