Why should engineers read more fiction?

9 – Rest and Relaxation – Lost in Translation

I have a demanding day job. However much I enjoy the engineering challenges, I value time away to refresh and renew. Reading a book in bed before turning off the light, helps me to sleep. Holidays are fantastic opportunities to catch up on lots of reading.

Some people look for an ‘easy-read’ on holiday, nothing too taxing, a feel-good romance or cosy crime mystery; others love a thrilling page turner, an action-packed race against time. There are those in need of mental stimulation, saving the densest books for when they have time to savour the subtleties of that missing letter e, and those who revel in contrast – solving crimes in freezing Scandinavia from a sun lounger on the beach, sweltering through a Louisiana swamp each night after a day’s skiing, or empathising with the homeless from the hammock of a second home.

Suggesting holiday books that will work for a complete stranger is nigh on impossible, so I will limit myself to a couple of observations: quality and variety.

When I was little, I looked forward to my mum’s fish pie, made with tinned salmon, frozen mixed vegetables, a white sauce and smash (instant dehydrated mashed potato): quick and filling and immensely comforting. As an adult I have learned (courtesy of the man I love) that the better the ingredients, the more time and care taken in the preparation, the more delicious and satisfying the dish.

So, although it is tempting to make a beeline for the bestseller table in the airport bookshop, hold on just a minute.

Sometimes a book is a bestseller because it’s a cracking story, but more often the hype doesn’t live up to the promise. A twist you never saw coming. Well yes, I did actually, from about a million miles away. A dark psychological thriller. Or another married woman with a unreliable memory and poor taste in life partner? Gripping, dark and twisted crime. Let me guess, at least one naked young woman will be tortured and dismembered and buried in the snow.

The more you read well-crafted stories, the more you will thirst for quality books.

And here’s the thing, unlike fine food and wine, great books generally don’t cost any more than indifferent ones. Your vacation time is limited, use it well.

Here’s a thought. Maybe engineers gravitate to non-fiction because they are discerning readers fed up with the worst of mass-market fiction.

Or maybe no one’s given them ten really good recommendations.

I’m not a literary snob, honest. Or maybe I am. I grew up reading Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon (and eating instant fish pie). I loathed the ‘classics’ they made us read at school, but thanks to some enlightened friends and lovers and their book lists, I grew up.

I adore books in translation. Only 20% of the world’s population speak English and fewer than 5% have English as their native language. That means most stories are told first in another language. Translation is expensive, so there’s an automatic quality filter; only the best books are translated and no two are the same. Discerning publishers like Oneworld, Fitzcarraldo Editions, Charco Press find the gems.

Variety, as we all know, is the spice of life.

I know this is a tough, a bit like asking for directions instead of sticking to the map/satnav.

Even if you ignore all my other recommendations, then take heed of this one.

All choices of book are incredibly personal, one reader’s nectar is another’s poison. But help is at hand, there are professionals out there.

My recommendation: Ask a thoughtful bookseller or librarian to recommend a book in translation.

Here are some examples of books I adored – but do find your own.

Continue to number ten – Support writers, translators, designers, publishers and bookshops

Fiona Erskine is a professional engineer and the author of Jaq Silver thrillers The Chemical DetectiveThe Chemical ReactionThe Chemical Cocktail and genre defying Phosphate Rocks: A death in Ten Objects.