Authors may have been about to cancel their holidays to weep into old pages of manuscript when they saw the headlines saying that one in ten young adults have never read a novel. But not every art-form is for everyone, and maybe the 10% who don’t read novels are enjoying narrative fiction elsewhere: watching films or TV. Perhaps the more alarming statistic is that only a quarter of Britons aged between 18 and 25 take a novel with them to the pool or beach. Three-quarters take a mobile phone, which means the next generation is much more confident of its ability to keep sand out of electronics than I am.
Speaking of which, we should probably take this research with a pinch of salt-water, because it has been conducted by a phone manufacturer. Doubtless if Waterstones had decided to study the same subject, they’d find a lot more books on the beaches, and rather fewer phones. I’ve always believed books migrate in the summer, taken on holiday and left behind for other readers. But the study does raise a question about what we want from a holiday.
Many young people in the survey believed that books were too heavy or took up too much suitcase space. But unless you’re planning to pack hardbacks, that sounds suspiciously like an excuse rather than a reason. I would say the same about taking a second pair of shoes anywhere, which is why I always look like a sensible lady hiker in my holiday photos.
And weren’t e-readers supposed to free us from the weight of books? It’s two years since I was judging the Man Booker Prize, and I read the entries on paper or electronically, depending on where I was. I would always choose a paper book at home. When travelling, it’s easier (and certainly lighter) to switch to an e-reader.
But it is undeniably harder to concentrate on an e-reader than a book. There are emails and texts, games and videos, and it is easy to be distracted. Books – especially good books – are an immersive experience, and it’s hard to submerge yourself in their worlds if you are forever pinging from one app to another. But this isn’t necessarily a problem with our capacity to focus. It’s a problem with the medium. When I put my phone away, or switch from e-reader back to paper, my concentration levels shoot up again.
So let’s not assume that the next generation of readers will be non-existent. Books are a technological marvel: they allow mind-reading, travel through time and space, and they still work if you drop them in the pool.
There can be few things over which David Cameron has had a more decisive influence than the use of the phrase, ‘LOL’. No sooner had we discovered that he believed it to mean ‘Lots of love,’ rather than ‘Laugh out loud,’ we collectively shrugged and realised we didn’t want to say it anymore anyway. According to a new survey, fewer than 2% of people now express online laughter with LOL. And I think we could safely guess that at least 90% of that 2% are using it sarcastically.
The majority of us prefer to go old-school, and express mirth with a simple ‘haha.’ Even that is too much for me, in truth. I prefer a simple ‘Ha,’ which comes closest to representing my own laugh: a short honk of glee, like a jubilant goose might utter.
Is Nefertiti hiding within the tomb of Tutankhamun? Dr Nicholas Reeves, an American archaeologist looking at scans of the tomb, thinks he may have found signs of two doorways. Those might have led to a portal, and that could have contained a body, and that body may have been female, and so it could have been Nefertiti, legendary beauty and queen of Egypt. Perhaps the real curse of Tutankhamun is the inability to be sure of anything.
Other Egyptologists are less convinced than Reeves. Joyce Tyldesley of Manchester University said, ‘I think there are certainly some signs that there might have been some activity around those doorways,’ which is the most polite put-down I’ve ever heard. Still, it’s an exciting thought, and perhaps we’re a tiny step closer to knowing a bit more about Nefertiti.
Airports are awful. A parking space costs more than a hotel room. Ticket-prices on the Heathrow Express suggest it uses caviar for fuel. Then there’s the liquids, the shoe-removal, the bit where they swab your bag to see if it’s taken drugs. At least you can buy miniature shampoo (the same price as regular shampoo, but they’ve squeezed it all into a tiny bottle. It’s a miracle of science).
But now things are looking up: we’re having a boarding pass rebellion, refusing to show them since it’s not legally required (and allows the shops to do some creative VAT accounting). So remember, when you’re buying a bottle of water which is much safer than the kind you would have brought in through security if you’d been allowed – hence the price tag – keep your boarding pass to yourself.