Shortlisted author David Crane on non-fiction books as holiday reading
Noto, South-East Sicily.
For anyone writing non-fiction it’s always interesting, in a demoralising sort of way, to see what friends take on holiday to read. There is an immensely rich literature about Sicily, but was there a single Norman Lewis or Durrell, John Julius Norwich or Peter Robb among the nine of us – not a bit of it. The latest (unopened) Patrick Leigh Fermor volume and Alan Ross’s 1950s translation of Philippe Diolé’s The Seas of Sicily to add a bit of ballast to the list, but otherwise it was all the usual suspects – one Inspector Montalbano, one Wallander, one Len Deighton, the newest Le Carré...
It would be nice to blame Ryanair – two hefty new books on the Napoleonic Wars very nearly earned me a tidy surcharge – but as everyone else was flying BA that clearly doesn’t wash. I remember taking Robin Lane Fox’s massive Pagans and Christians on holiday for about ten years running without opening it so I’m in no position to gripe, but if I can just put in a plug for non-fiction Roger Knight’s wonderful Britain against Napoleon and the first volume of Rory Muir’s definitive new biography of Wellington, which were equally proof against the best pool I’ve ever seen and a species of Sicilian midge that makes the Scottish Highlands variety seem about as vicious as a Cabbage White.
One tip: for anyone going to Sicily, who has not already read it, Alexander Baron’s World War II novel There is no Home is a must. So, too, for that matter, is his From the City, From the Plough. The best novel in English to come out of the Second World War?