Packing for a late season holiday? Or stuck in the office yearning for the sun-drenched Greek islands? Whichever it is, here are nine books you should consider:
Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese by Patrick Leigh Fermor
If you’ve never heard of Patrick Leigh Fermor, it’s time you got to know this chain-smoking former Special Operations Executive, who at 18 left England to walk across pre-WWII Europe: a friend of goat herds and the darling of a since-disappeared Central-European aristocracy, the war hero who kidnapped General Kreipe on Crete and a writer of travel books on Greece. And what kind of book a man like that writes? You can read my book review here:
Of the Mani, Manhattan and Alexander the Great
Ransom by David Malouf
I read this book when I did a reading challenge last year. I knew nothing of Australian literature other than the feminist literature they taught me at university (I don’t like feminist literature) but I had to read a book from Australia to complete the challenge. After some googling I hit upon this one: a beautiful retelling of an episode of the Iliad (no prizes for guessing which episode). More about why I loved the book here.
(Just incidentally when I discovered Ransom, the other Australian book I discovered made its way into my collection of quotes under Awesomely Awful.)
It’s All Greek to Me by Charlotte Higgins
A basic but entertaining introduction to Ancient Greece and the influence it had on European culture. If you want to know who said ‘man is a political animal’ or need a little introduction to Homer and Herodotus, this is the book for you.
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Well, this is such a classic. Is there anybody here who haven’t read it yet? If you haven’t, go and buy a copy straightaway: this is the hilarious story of an English family living in Corfu before World War II, written by a celebrated naturalist.
Thermopylae: The Battle for the West by Ernle Bradford
During the last year I became a real fan of Ernle Bradford, a historian, sailor and lover of the Mediterranean. This is the first book I read by him, several years ago. Although you can get other, more modern books about Thermopylae, including one by Cambridge University professor Paul Cartledge, generally hailed as the greatest living expert on all things Spartan, Bradford’s telling of the story is still one of the best, and, in my opinion, it’s the most enjoyable read of them all.
Three Ways to Capsize a Boat by Chris Stewart
A failed English sheep-farmer is offered a job to skipper a yacht in the Greek archipelago and grabs the chance with both hands. There’s only one ever so slight problem: he’s never been on a boat in his life and knows nothing of sailing… But ever the optimist, Chris Stewart set off for Greece with a book called Teach Yourself Sailing – and he lived to tell the tale.
Greek Myths by Robert Graves
Although I wouldn’t recommend that you try to read this cover to cover on a holiday because that would be hard work, this book nevertheless is the ultimate guide to Greek mythology. If it’s not included, it’s not a Greek myth. 🙂
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
If you’re old enough, you’ve probably seen the film version of this book with Anthony Quinn as the title character. Set on Crete, it’s the story of Zorba who lives life to the full. As a Time Magazine review put it, “nearly plotless but never pointless”. You can read a more recent review of the book in The Guardian here.
Anabasis (aka The Persian Expedition or The March of the Ten Thousand) by Xenophon
Can’t visit Greece without reading a classical author, surely? There’s plenty of choice of course from poetry through historical narratives to philosophical treatises and I opted for Xenophon for no better reasons than: a) I’ve just read it, b) it’s a slim volume and c) it’s not too taxing to read on a beach. 🙂 The simply unbeatable story of the homeward march of ten thousand desperate Greek mercenaries all the way from Babylon through enemy-held territory, as written by one of their generals. Julius Caesar has nothing on this guy.
No links today, instead... Let's have a 'little 'audience participation'! What books would or did you pack for a Greek holiday? Leave your suggestions in the comments below. :)