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Books for the beach

10 July 2006

'Holidays offer an opportunity to extend reading time beyond that snatched half-hour on the train or the slack-jawed period before lights out, in which a kind of literary Groundhog Day dictates that you read the same page an apparent infinity of times without being any the wiser as to what's going on. Suddenly, there's a bit of time, a modicum of quiet and the prospect of an unfolding mental space in which to aim for something more satisfying than remembering to pay the congestion charge and getting through a day without being sacked.

The ensuing challenge is one that all book-lovers should light on with something approaching glee. You know you want something good, something engrossing, something that will hold your attention. You might know, broadly, the kind of things you like, but you're also beset by other imperatives. Should you seize the opportunity to immerse yourself in something out of your normal range? Should you satisfy the modern tourist's conscience by informing yourself about the place you're visiting? Should you work on those areas of your intellect that lie fallow during the rest of the year - renew your acquaintance with contemporary poetry, for example, or bone up on the development of porcelain in the Tang dynasty'

Alex Clark, introducing the Observer's summer reading list