I've sometimes felt that packing for a holiday can be almost more fun than the holiday itself - working on the theory that it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive. It would be pretty disappointing if things really were better in anticipation than reality, but that doesn't stop me enjoying the anticipation to the full. If it wouldn't freak the boys out, I'd have my suitcase open and at the ready now, and we don't leave for two weeks.
This theory holds true for the books I'll take on holiday, too. I'm hoping that I won't really have time to read - so busy chatting, wandering aimlessly round markets, lying rose-sodden and dead to the world in the sun - but from now until we go, I'm playing a happy game selecting the ultimate 4 books to take with me for my few days away, just as once I would have fretted contentedly about finding the perfect bikini or some impossible-to-procure salve to protect my hair from sand and chlorine. These days as long as the bottom of my swimming costume hasn't worn through I'll wear it, but finding myself without the right book could ruin everything.
I like a bit of variety in my holiday reading, not just a pile of the latest releases or whatever's on the Booker shortlist: something old, something new, perhaps something recommended, something that's been hanging around on my bedside table for a bit (though that can feel like homework). You have to take in where you're going, too, and what you'll be doing. A holiday that might involve wafting around the pool in a cutaway swimsuit, costume jewellery and heels makes me think Valley of the Dolls and fruity martinis; viewing mosques in a crisp white kurta and with a string of turquoise worry beads in your pocket could only be accompanied by Robert Byron and The Road to Oxiana; and a slim volume of Coleridge's wilder poetry would be just the right thing for muddy hikes in the Lake District, alongside a sneaky supply of Penrith fudge.
At this stage, I think I'll be going for something that caught my eye in my local bookshop by Tarquin Hall, a mystery set in Delhi billed as an 'Indian Poirot', for the journey - light but absorbing. Once there, a family history tracking a Chinese snuff bottle called The Hare with Amber Eyes, when I'm feeling enthusiastic about diving into something; for when I need more narrative pull, The Slap - the most gripping sounding of the novels I've seen reviewed recently (and set in Melbourne, to boot); finally, for when I've almost ground to a halt but want something idly to flick through and muse upon poolside, Seamus Heaney's collected poems. I was in the library the other day and listened to him reading Mint and The Call and was utterly captivated - I can't wait to read more. Then, of course, I'll need one spare - just in case I'm caught short on the way home. But I'm only allowing myself 4 (got to carry my own bag). Back to the drawing board... and another few days of planning pleasure.
Now, having written all this, and pondered happily over it for so long, I have to admit I rather hope I'll end up not reading a thing... and I've still got my holiday wardrobe to consider.