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7 Of The Best Books To Read At The Beach

This is a bit of a diversion from the blog this week, in honor of my vacation to Koh Samui that I’m currently enjoying.

So instead of books about Bangkok, I’m going to reveal my favorite books to get stuck into when you find yourself stretching out on a tropical island. Or, scratch that, any beach, any where.

Now, this comes with a caveat: I am a huge nerd.

You’re unlikely to find me outstretched, sunburnt lobster, with a pina colada and the latest chick lit that I picked up for $5 at the aiport.

But you see that girl outstretched, sunburnt lobster, with a pina colada and a 900-page biography of Chairman Mao in her hand? Yep, that’s me.

For me, the beach represents time to get totally embroiled in a new tome. I love the escapism of fiction, but nowadays you’re more likely to catch me getting stuck into a book on history, psychology or politics, with a little notebook at my side to catch anything I find particularly interesting or inspiring.

I told you: total nerd.

Anyway, here are a few of the best books I’ve been reading at the beach.

Jerusalem: The Biography

Simon sebag Montefiore

best books for the beachThis is genuinely one of the most incredible history books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Just as the title denotes, this is a chronological history of the city of Jerusalem, from its earliest history founded under King David to the iconic religious epicentre it is today.

Montefiore draws on ancient texts, modern scholarship and even his own family history to piece together the jigsaw of Jerusalem. Reading it helped greatly in my understanding of how the ancient past has influenced the present and will go on to shape the future in the Middle East, and really lit a fire in me to find out more about the incredibly complex relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

It’s worth saying that while I identify as an atheist — despite a brief and inevitably doomed flirtation with Christianity in my early 20s — I’ve always held an appreciation for religious history and culture, whatever side of the cloth that happens to be cut from.

I knew little about Jerusalem going in when I started this book but came out with a much richer understanding of the city, its history, main characters and its global positioning.

HIGHLY recommended — for the beach or frankly anywhere. Just don’t get it wet.

The Phantom Lover

jim algie

best books for the beachI’ve just finished The Phantom Lover — a collection of short stories centred around Thailand — and I was blown away by the rich story-telling and intricate linking between what looks like, at first sight, seemingly unrelated stories.

Not only is this a good book to read on a beach; it’s a good book to read on a Thai beach, being as it’s set in our fine Kingdom.

This comes with a warning though — it’s dark, creepy, and occasionally quite gruesome. Never gratuitously, but certainly enough to give you pause for thought. And the final story — more of a novella — which pulls in various strands of the previous stories, is centred around the epic Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

It might be a little close to home if you’re reading it on the beach. Particularly if you’re in Khao Lak…

But irregardless, it’s a brilliant work of fiction and a highly enjoyable read that manages to open a window into the mysterious and supernatural world of Thai culture while it entertains.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

greg mckeown

best books for the beachI read this next to a pool in Hua Hin on Thailand’s Gulf, feeling overwhelmed about 6 months into self-employment. I had a metric ton of clients all across the world on different time zones and enough deadlines that my Google Calendar looked as though it was on crack.

I was doing too much but not being particularly productive or successful in what I was doing.

I was in a constant state of flapping.

This book — remarkable in its simplicity — brought me back down to earth.

It essentially forces you to confront the bare necessities in your life and cull all that is not serving those necessities. It’s trying to empower you to start saying ‘no’ and to take back control of your own life.

I found it a liberating read, made even more powerful by the fact that I was in the midst of sun, sand and sea and wasn’t sure how to take advantage of it.

Predatory Thinking

dave trott

best books for the beachYou may not know this about me, but I can be really fucking verbose.

Seriously, reading back some of my writing makes me cringe. Long sentences, half-page paragraphs and just a general brain dump of polysyllables.

But Dave Trott’s writing is not like that.

He is concise, sharp, witty. He is an ad-man. Trained in the art of effective copy.

His books are a masterclass in how to write. Intensely simple, perfectly crafted — these are the advertizing industry’s haikus.

His chapters are almost parable-like, revealing a truth about business, psychology or writing, wrapped in a memorable story or anecdote.

Must-read for any writer.

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel

best books for the beachWolf Hall won the Booker in 2010 — quite a feat for a work of historical fiction — and it’s been one of my favorite novels in my roster ever since.

Centered on the life of Thomas Cromwell, Mantel brings to life a character who the history books have left quite bland, paling against the accounts of his contemporaries, Henry VIII, Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More.

This hefty tome covers the rise of Cromwell from blacksmith’s son to England’s most important courtier as he enables Henry’s divorce, excommunication from the Catholic Church, marriage — and inevitable fallout — to the legendary Anne Boleyn.

This is a totally gripping read and absolute catnip for history lovers who like a little fictional coloring with their facts and sources.

Reading this would feel completely at odds to sunbathing on a tropical island, but sometimes it feels so good to indulge in such comedy.

Dialogues and Essays

seneca

best books for the beachThe beach is the perfect location for quiet contemplation and there’s no tool to encourage that better than the works of Seneca.

Seneca was a tutor to the emperor Nero in ancient Rome and is an important figure in the stoicism movement. His dialogues and essays, collected here, are absolutely bursting with sage advice and insight on how to live well and right.

I studied Seneca in the original Latin while at university, but I’ve actually gained more philosophical insight from this Oxford World Classics translation alone, at the beach. Probably like Seneca himself would have done (although in the Italian countryside).

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design

frank Wilczek

best books for the beachI’ll be totally honest: I haven’t read this yet. But I thought it worth including as it’s one of the books I’m bringing to Koh Samui.

And it looks promising.

It explores “the deeper order of beauty in nature” and how aesthetics fit into the wider logic of our universe.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed it thus: “An expertly curated tour across 2,500 years of philosophy and physics . . . [Frank Wilczek] has accomplished a rare feat: Writing a book of profound humanity based on questions aimed directly at the eternal.”

I can’t wait to find out more.

 

What do you like to read at the beach?

 

most beautiful libraries

16 Of The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

Many book lovers appreciate the sanctity of libraries, and when it comes to the world’s most beautiful libraries, you can be sure that the appreciation borders on infatuation.

While the rise of electronic devices like Kindles have made reading more accessible and brought books into the digital age — which should rightfully be celebrated — there’s little that can dim the majesty of a brilliant library.

Not all were were created equal, however, and sometimes the architecture and aesthetics manage to rival the beauty of the books within.

Looks aren’t everything, we know; but the prospect of seeking solace in a book while in some of the world’s most beautiful buildings is thrilling indeed.

Here are the 16 most beautiful libraries in the world.

1. Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia

Australia

most beautiful libraries

By jonwestra (CC BY 2.0)

This wing was built in 1884 in a French renaissance style, complete with mansard roof, in the centre of Adelaide.

After a couple of redevelopments, the centrepiece of the wing is now an exhibition space dedicated to the culture and heritage of South Australia.

2. Baroque Library Hall, Clementinum

Czech Republic

most beautiful libraries

By Bruno Delzant (CC BY 2.0)

The Clementinum is a complex of historic buildings in Prague, and was once the third largest Jesuit college in the world.

The Baroque Library Hall was built in 1722 and was painted in 1727 by Josef Hiebel — the ceiling is decked with frescoes on the subjects of science and art.

3. New York Public Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

By DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

This is the Rose Main Reading Room in the NYC Public Library on Fifth Avenue. It’s currently closed until 2017 sadly as it undergoes a rejuvenation, although it’s hoped that they will finish ahead of schedule.

The plaster ceiling here is a masterpiece.

4. State Library, Sydney

Australia

most beautiful libraries

By Christopher Chan (CC BY -ND-ND 2.0)

The oldest library in Australia and the Mitchell Wing, above, is the most beautiful — completed in 1910.

State Library as a whole is home to over 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

5. Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart

Germany

most beautiful libraries

By Jan Stöcklin (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Probably one of the most German buildings we’ve ever seen — clean, sharp lines and an almost clinically white palette. Here, the books and visitors provide the colour.

It was designed by Yi Architects studio back in 2011.

8. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

Lauren Manning (Creative Commons)

A library of Yale University, Beinecke was designed in 1963 with the intention of the rare books being the centre point. Hence, why they populate the core of the building.

The low light and marble panels protect the books while also lending quite a luxe vibe to the library.

9. Richelieu Building, Bibliothèque Nationale de France

France

most beautiful libraries

By Zubro (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The National Library of France holds all French publications and has origins dating back to the 14th Century and Charles V.

The Richelieu building dates back to the 19th century. There are three other Parisian sites belonging to the library, with around 14 million books in total.

10. Old Library, Trinity College

Ireland

most beautiful libraries

By DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

This is the Long Room of Dublin’s beautiful Trinity College library. It’s 65 metres long and home to 200,000 of the building’s oldest books and manuscripts. It was built in the early 18th century.

As well as some beaut wood panelling, the room is lined with marble busts of various patrons of the college — mostly philosophers and writers.

11. Jay Walker’s Private Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

By Aaron “tango” Tang (CC BY 2.0)

Described by Wired as “the most amazing library in the worl,” Priceline.com founder Walker’s private library is pretty beautiful.

Rare books, pop culture memorabilia and historic items can all be found here — including a list of plague deaths from 1665 and a sputnik.

12. Abbey Library of Saint Gall

Switzerland

most beautiful libraries

By Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (Creative Commons)

Now a World Heritage Site, the library was the only part of the Abbey to survive a fire in 937, and now houses the oldest collection in Switzerland,

It was originally founded by Abbey founder Saint Othmar, and was designed in its current Rococo style by Peter Thumb. In situ manuscripts date back to the 8th century.

13. Bodleian Library

UK

most beautiful libraries

By DAVID ILIFF (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Probably the most famous library in the world, Oxford University’s beloved ‘Bod’ is home to 12 million items.

Above is the Duke Humphrey’s Library — the oldest reading room that dates back to 1487. It’s primarily for maps, music and rare books pre-1641. It’s named after Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, a son of Henry IV.

14. San Francisco Monastery Library

Peru

most beautiful libraries

By dgphilli (Creative Commons)

Home to 25,000 works of incredible rarity and value from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The building was completed in 1672.

15. Wiblingen Abbey Library

Germany

most beautiful libraries

By Christopher (Creative Commons)

The former Benedictine abbey was completed in 1744 in the baroque style, although was functioning long before that as a centre of learning and excellence, in strict adherence to St Benedict.

The library was designed by Christian Wiedemann and is now open to the public.

16. William Randolph Hearst’s Private Library

USA

most beautiful libraries

By Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons)

Hearst Castle in California is home to a beautiful library and this, the gothic study, where media magnate Hearst carried out much of his business.

The library is home to over 4,000 books, as well as countless antiques and works of art. 150 Ancient Greek vases are also in evidence.

 

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