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
. 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. Israel
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!