There is a distressing worthiness about most of the books which the leaders of the four main parties claim in today’s Sunday Times they are going to read on their holidays. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage have selected the titles they think they ought to like, rather than those they might actually enjoy. I am prepared to bet none of them gets through a tenth of the pages with which they have encumbered themselves.
This is an easy mistake to make. One packs some admirable tome, and finds on arrival that one is simply not in the mood for it. It is too long, too heavy, too forbidding, perhaps also too great for the exhausted mood in which one finds oneself. One can’t bear to open the thing.
Some resort in these circumstances to the nearest trashy thriller on which they can lay their hands. But another possibility is to remove the latest modish works from one’s suitcase and instead go on holiday with a selection of books not published in the last year or two: books which are highly enjoyable, but of which one can, without reproaching oneself, read just a few pages, if all one really wants to do is have a drink or go for a swim or play some bridge or fall asleep.
A slim volume which would be perfectly suited to any of these four statesmen is The Diary of a Nobody. Lord Rosebery – who managed to become Prime Minister – said he regarded any bedroom which he occupied as unfurnished without a copy of it.
Politics is a form of gambling. Pushkin’s story, The Queen of Spades, is only 30 pages long. I have not yet discovered how many times in rapid succession one has to read it before wearying of it.
One-Upmanship, by Stephen Potter, is a book from which any politician can profit. No one has ever caught better the incurable desire of the middle-class Englishman to sound more important and successful than he really is.
If, as I hope, some of these statesmen feel insulted by the implication that they lack the attention span which a long book might demand, then let them take with them The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek. It is very long and must be the funniest book ever written about the First World War. Shortly before war broke out, Hasek founded “The Party of Moderate and Peaceful Progress Within the Limits of the Law”, in order to contest the elections to the Austro-Hungarian parliament. So this is perhaps one for the Deputy Prime Minister.
Almost too late, it occurs to me that the Prime Minister might secretly prefer something about field sports. I trust he will enjoy The Twelfth and After, by J K Stanford. So far as I am aware, it is the funniest book ever written about grouse-shooting. If on returning from the moors Mr Cameron were to make some apposite remark drawn from its pages in his address to the Conservative Party Conference, he would surely acquire the patina of authenticity which has so far eluded him.