I’m getting ready to rip up my house and add an extension. I’ve been in denial about how disruptive this is going to be to my life for three-four months and I’ve buried my head in the sand with regards to how much this is going to cost, but the builders are engaged, the movers are booked an I’ve started packing my things into cardboard boxes that are being recycled from my last house move. They’ve survived the elements in the garden shed, though I had expected them to deteriorate, they seem to be able to handle the books I’ve stacking into them.
This exercise is making me aware of how many books I have (and in some cases multiple copies of particularly loved works) and how many I have yet to read. As I’ve been putting them into boxes, I’ve been creating a little pile of books I’m not prepared to part with during the demolition.
Among the books I can’t bring myself to store for three months are the following:
- Candide – This book is one of my favourites and I think i’ve read it about 10 times To be fair, it’s short, but that’s not the point. It’s funny, sad, crude and manages to convey everything about the nature of human beings. It flashes a mirror into the face of mankind and forces us to acknowledge that we’re never satisfied, are hypocritical, unforgiving, petty, ignorant and yet, we can also be romantic, charitable, ironic and mindlessly optimistic in the face of all the other reprehensible characteristics. It’s a perfect little book that reminds me that sometimes, you just have to laugh.
- Dracula – It’s one of the most original, well craft stories of all time. The narrative is unique in that it tells the story from all of the main characters points of view through a collection of note, diaries, journals and audio recordings. Dracula is evil incarnate and the characters that fight him, both men and women (unusual for that time) are heroic in a way I’d like to think I’d be when faced with a monster.
- Lolita – This controversial book stands out in it’s twisted 1st person narrative. The main character, “Humbert Humbert” is one of the classic voices in modern literature. His opinions and thoughts are sickening, yet compelling. There is something sympathetic in his tale but taken as a whole, it’s shocking, sad, drives me to anger and although I hate Humbert Humbert as a character, there’s a fucked up comedy to the story and how he delivers his case to the reader. I think I know every word of this book. It reminds me of what human beings are capable of and what a precarious world we live in. Unlike Dracula, Humbert Humbert represents the real monsters among us and that’s worth a spot in the list.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – There is nothing I don’t love about this book. The characters are funny and original, the plot stands above the rest as one of the most imaginative science fictions books of all time and it never fails to make me laugh. There’s nothing I can really add to this. I’ve read it and listened to the audio book countless times and it never gets old. There is something comforting in the familiarity of the story and I think it’s safe to say that although I’ve probably covered it 20 or 30 times, I think I’l be reading it 20-30 more before I check out.
- The Age of Innocence – never mind that it’s the first Pulitzer Prize winning book by a female author (though that’s a strong recommendation). It’s tragic, beautiful and makes astute observations about American society (late 1800s) that makes you feel like you’re there watching the splendour, riches, hypocrisy and subtlety of the New York upper classes. As you read it, you feel like a fly on the wall, willing our hero and heroine to drop kick convention and do as they please. On more than one occasion, I’ve practically yelled at the pages with full knowledge that there is nothing anyone can do to change the inevitable car crash that our characters are heading for. Yet, I love watching the struggle unfold and wonder if, under the same circumstances, I would behave in the same way? It makes me think of our 21st century sensibilities and I wonder, are we really better off or have we just managed to disguise our prejudices better? I can go on about this one for ages, but it’s better if I leave you to read it or watch the beautifully crafted film adaptation by Martin Scorsese.
So, that’s my bookcase. These are the books that never leave my side and I can’t store away. If you had to cling to only 5 books, which would they be and why?