Thursday, March 17, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: What should we read before the dying of the light?

Literary Blog Hop
This week, the Literary Blog Hop, brought to us by the Blue Bookcase, is asking:

”What one literary work must you read before you die?”

My immediate response is that the literary work that I must read before I die is whichever book I decide to postpone reading until I am sitting in my favourite chair, surrounded by my grandchildren (I am not going to live to meet my great-grandchildren unless both my daughter and her offspring become teen parents) at the age of 100!

I am pretty sure that’s not the answer that everyone is looking for so I’ll put on my thinking cap.  

Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare, Trollope, Dickens, Waugh, Defoe, Swift, Nabokov, Twain, Austen, Brontë (C), Brontë (E), Whitman, Eliot, Auden, Shaw, Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Beckett, Poe, Dante, Cervantes, Wordsworth, Dumas, Borges, Forster, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Zola, Amis (K), Amis (M), Kafka, Woolf, Hugo, Maupassant, Wodehouse, Banks, Mishima, Eco, Saki, Fitzgerald, Homer, Kazantzakis, Mailer, Bulgakov, Updike, Pynchon.

There we go. Fifty writers off the top of my head and that is only scratching the tip of the iceberg.  There are simply too many books.  I don’t know what the “one” book is that I must read before I die.  Should it be a book I “should” read or a book I “want” to read?

Ultimately, I think it needs to be a book that, if I haven’t read it before I die, I will look back from my afterlife and give my decaying body a spiritual clip round the ear for not having done so.  On that basis, and acknowledging that it is impossible to narrow it down to a single book, I nominate Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess.

Any Old Iron is Burgess’ updating of the legend of Excalibur, King Arthur’s mythical blade, and tells the story of a Welsh-Jewish family’s progress through the first half of the 20th Century, leading up to the creation of Israel.  I have had a copy kicking around for most of the past 25 years and have started it several times but have never finished it.  This isn’t because it is dull or difficult.  For some strange reason, every time I have picked it up, there has been a distraction or a supervening need to read something else that has interrupted me.  So, if there is one book I am determined to finish before I pop my clogs, this is it.

As an alternative, I am currently trying to read Gravity’s Rainbow as part of my 1,001 Book challenge and it is, unquestionably, the most difficult novel I have ever read.  There is so much going on in it and it is so complex that I can only manage a hundred pages or so before I have to read something (anything!) else as mental relief.  Again, I will not let it defeat me -  I will finish it, if it is the last thing I ever do.  And it may well be.

But, hold on a minute.  What if the question isn’t about me but about you?  What if it is asking me to nominate a book that you must read before you keel over?

Again, I will mentally stamp my foot, pout and declare that it is a sheer impossibility to nominate but a single book as the only “must” read for anyone.  So, just because I nominate this one, don’t think that there aren’t a host of others I think you should read.  Oh, no!

Anyway, as I am only allowed one nomination, I would suggest that your literary life will not be complete unless you have read Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

Why?  Because it is fab.  It has everything – a cool plotline, memorable characters, some classic quotes and the greatest villainess ever.  It is melodramatic, over the top and simply great fun.  It’s my favourite Shakespeare play and, if you haven’t already read it, I suggest you drop everything (unless you are holding your baby) and run out to buy a copy.  After all, who knows when the Grim Reaper will come a-knocking!


gautami tripathy said...

I have EVERYTHING by Shakespeare. Love his works!

I have mentioned poetry in my post. Come check the poets listed there.

Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

Laura said...

Macbeth is literally the greatest- I love Lady Macbeth so much, such a strong female character when females weren't even allowed to be strong (well, I guess she's not so strong by the end. But still)
I'm still having a hard time choosing a book to read before I die- come and help me?

Tony D said... does, Caesar.

@parridhlantern said...

Glad I'm not the only one stomping feet, and throwing toys out of the pram, and after a great deal of prevaricating & shouting at my bookcase for an answer, I chose a book on reading.

Anonymous said...

I haven't even begun to contemplate when I might read Shakespeare. Hopefully sometime between the time that my children marry, I have my masters and I still have my eyesight.

Anonymous said...

I know it's probably a bit overdone, but, if I were to choose a Shakespeare work that everyone should read, it would be Hamlet. Ghosts, stories within stories, palace intrigue, dark comedy, a truly tragic hero. I suppose Macbeth has most of those as well but just a difference in preference. Good choice!

Song said...

Ooo! Any Old Iron sounds really interesting! I think I'll keep an eye open for this book.

As regards Shakespeare, I prefer Hamlet to Macbeth...I'm not sure why. But this puts me in mind of somehting that I would love to add to my post - if we're talking of must-read plays I would suggest folk read Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus". I think it's brilliant!

*ೃ༄ Jillian said...

People keep encouraging me to read Macbeth. A year ago I'd have shriveled up in fear, but now I'm reading the sonnets, and believe Shakespeare may be a favorite writer, now. Funny what a year will do! Or a lifetime. :-)

Mel u said...

A very interesting set of books-by the oddest coincidence I have read Gravity's Rainbow many times and might pick it as the last book I would read again-

Mel u said...

II would like to invite you to consider participating in

Irish Short Story Week-3/14 to 3/20

Anonymous said...

Entertaining post! I hadn't heard of "Any Old Iron" before but am intrigued and will look into adding this book to my list.

Monica said...

Well, I love Macbeth, second only to Hamlet.

I'm also working my way through the 101 list, for reasons not about impending mortality though.

I guess I'll come up against Gravity’s Rainbow at some point.

Anonymous said...

Oops! I haven't read anything by Shakespeare. Should I? Why should I? I hope to live happily-ever for a long time without reading Shaky! But maybe in my armchair at the age of 80, I will realise my mistake and finally start on his oevre. By then, it may last a life time!

Robyn Ryle said...

I agree that it's really impossible to answer this question properly and for everyone. I so enjoy your blog and so I'm passing along One Lovely Blog Award. Check it out by following the link and much book blogging love.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Great answer. I've read most of the books as well. I haven't read MacBeth, though. I want to see a good stage version first. I do that with every Shakespeare play. See first, then read. Nice blog. I'm now following you!

Anonymous said...

Gravity's Rainbow; I'm so jealous. It's on my list but I admit I find even the thought of it intimidating. I haven't even heard of the Burgess book. I'll give you King Lear for your Macbeth!

bibliophiliac said...

Macbeth IS fab. Thanks for introducing the Anthony Burgess book--I had never heard of it, but sounds fascinating. Gravity's Rainbow does not sound fab.