The top 10 holiday reads of all time (as voted by the UK public)

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One of the best things about going on holiday is having the time to relax, rejuvenate and actually read! Getting some time to ourselves to get lost in our favourite book is a real treat.

At Stena Line, we wanted to know which books were the UK and Ireland’s favourite. To find out, we asked over 1,000 people to tell us what their ultimate holiday reads were.

The results speak for themselves. While some are what you might expect, others are pretty surprising…how many have you read?

10. “War and Peace” — Leo Tolstoy

Kicking things off in tenth place is a book that sets the tone for a list that subverts expectations. 

Often claimed to be one of the greatest literary achievements in history, Leo Tolstoy’s epic anti-novel War and Peace chronicles the French invasion of Russia in the 19th century. Despite clocking in at over 1200 pages, it earned the tenth-highest number of votes from those we surveyed.

It’s by no means a ‘beach read’ in the traditional sense, but British holidaymakers love it all the same.

9. “The Godfather” — Mario Puzo

The greatest crime epic ever put to the screen was originally a novel by Mario Puzo. Thanks to Puzo’s authentic insights into the world of the Mafia, the English-speaking world was introduced to Italian words like “consigliere” and “omertà”.

While it might be overshadowed by its film adaption, The Godfather remains a hit with Brits on holiday, with a tally of votes that puts it in ninth place on our list. Don Corleone would be proud. 

8.  “A Song of Ice and Fire” series — George R. R. Martin

Game of Thrones might have been the world’s most-watched TV show in its original run, but it owes its success to the expansive book series that George R. R. Martin started two decades before HBO aired its first episode.

And while the legacy of the TV adaption might have been marred by a lacklustre final season, fans of A Song of Ice and Fire still hold onto hope that Martin can unravel those mistakes when he completes his masterwork. 

Though certainly one of the best stories of recent years, A Song of Ice and Fire came in at an eighth place in the voting, eclipsed by an older — and arguably more enduring — fantasy series…

7. “The Hobbit” — J. R. R. Tolkien

The second author to have two ‘r’s as initials in his name is also the original. Tolkien enters the rankings at number seven with The Hobbit, a book he originally wrote for his children. Nevertheless, it remains beloved by children and adults alike thanks to its imagination and gripping plot.

As a lighter read than Tolkien’s other novels, it makes sense why The Hobbit would be so popular with those on holiday. It promises escapism without the comedowns of more serious works on this list — and remains a satisfying re-read again and again.

6. “Catch-22” — Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is an odd book. Still, few have been quite as successful in taking a difficult subject — in this case, the Second World War — and creating a genuinely funny satire. 

For that reason, Joseph Heller’s comedy about the trials and tribulations of U.S. airman Captain John Yossarian has a level of popularity among readers that seems only to increase with age. It’s been adapted several times into film and TV, including a recent outing produced by George Clooney.

Catch-22 just missed out of the top five in our survey, coming in at number six.

5. “It” — Stephen King

The roaring success of Andy Muschietti’s film adaption might have something to with how well Stephen King’s It ranks in our list. 

Though certainly not a short read (it’s over 1,100 pages long), King’s consistently gripping writing and fast-moving plotlines make It an iconic and irresistible read. Like The Shining and Pet Sematary, the disturbing story of Pennywise the Clown is one that readers feel drawn back to again and again. Voters put it just inside their top five.

Still, it’s certainly one to read in the day time — the last thing you want is a holiday where you can’t sleep…

4. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy — J. R. R. Tolkien

Even before the films smashed box-office records and won more Academy Awards than you can count, J. R. R. Tolkien’s seminal book series was beloved by millions of readers around the world. 

The epic story of Frodo’s journey to destroy the “one ring to rule them all” is as compelling as it is timeless, which accounts for why The Lord of the Rings comes high up in our list in fourth place. 

The mature narrative, complex characters and — let’s face it — massive battle scenes make The Lord of the Rings a slightly more satisfying offering than The Hobbit. It’s one of the ultimate escapist novel series and a deserving entry on our list.

3. “50 Shades of Grey” — E. L. James

Be honest — you were waiting to see if this one was on here.

While it can’t quite compete with the world-building of The Lord of the Rings or the razor-sharp wit of Catch-22, 50 Shades of Grey offers a different kind of escapism for its readers. And while it’s hard to imagine anyone being so self-assured as to openly read it by the pool or in a cafe, there are clearly plenty of people who like to lose themselves in this adult fantasy from the comfort of their hotel rooms.

E. L. James’s record-breaking erotic novel has dog-eared copies in many a suitcase today, winning itself a podium slot at third place in our list.

2. The Bible

In stark contrast to our last entry, The Bible lands in second place on our list of ultimate holiday reads. For religious holidaymakers, the time away from the hustle and bustle of life proves the perfect opportunity to reconnect with their faith. 

And even for those who don’t have any religious belief, one thing’s for sure: no other book has had such a significant impact on Western literature on the whole. From the reign of King David in the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus in the New, the stories within its pages are referenced in thousands of books throughout history. For religious and non-religious people alike, The Bible is a must-read, and a hit with our voters.

Yet despite such an expansive influence, there was one book series that even The Bible couldn’t compete with…

1. The “Harry Potter” series — J. K. Rowling

If you’re surprised that Harry Potter took the top spot in our poll, you’re in the minority. For anyone who’s ever looked at even the sales numbers from J. K. Rowling’s massively influential book series, the answer was clear from the start.

Since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in 1997, the Harry Potter series has sold roughly half a billion copies. Half a billion. And nowhere is it more popular than on when Brits finally get a chance to relax on the ferry abroad or on the sunny balcony of their hotel room.

Despite being initially aimed at children, the Harry Potter books matured along with its audience. Its gradually darker subject matter, clever plotting and — most importantly — its deeply sympathetic cast make Harry Potter a series that, perhaps more so than any other, demands to be revisited on a regular basis.

Variety is the spice of life

It’s exciting to see how varied the list turned out. From vast fantasy epics to steamy erotica, it’s clear that the tastes of the British public can’t be boxed in — and indeed, they break out when we get the opportunity to get away from work and let our hair down.

Ready to lose yourself in your favourite holiday book? Check out our latest ferry travel offers here

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