My first attempt at persuading my partner Des to read came about just after I put together his ’50 things to do’ in the year that he’s 50 (this year). ‘Read a book’, one of the bigger challenges for a non-reader, was more likely to be achieved in company, I reasoned.
Thus I set about choosing books for a number of our friends who will form part of the collection of people heading off to Amsterdam for the main 50th birthday celebrations. This obviously included careful consideration of a text for Des. As I pondered which book I could possibly suggest for Des, it was fitting I penned my thoughts. And, so, this is the first (and possibly last) letter Des received from me. My friends also received a similar letter as I shared by meanderings on which book I should persuade Des to read and, by default, since a book club made up of his old school pals was more likely to see him read, which books I had chosen for them.
Dear Darling Des
I realise you have a certain aversion to one particular item on the list of 50 things to do that we have compiled. Proposed by my good self, to read a book, I do implore you to approach this with an open mind. Fear not, I have enlisted the help of our good friends (Donna and Kevin, Julie and Mark, Sue, Sara and Jayne) to help make this task less onerous and more fun! So, I have chosen books for you all! And you only have to read one, but if this letter and subsequent book sharing experience encourages you to read more, all the better.
But therein lies the rub; if you have to choose but one book for a person to read, how do you make that choice? It needs to be a book of ‘significance’ but equally, it needs to be readable so you don’t just give up and enjoyable, after all, that’s why readers read, because it’s enjoyable. However, it should be a ‘worthy’ read and not some tacky trailer trash paperback equivalent of Eastenders.
So, if you are to read one book in effectively a lifetime (excluding compulsory books for O level), surely it should be an epic? War and Peace? The Tolstoy classic is a must for any literary lover, but it is long, very long, and as I have not read it myself, I think I should discount the Russian work. Something by Dickens, then, my dad’s favourite author and what choice! Nicholas Nickleby, Pickwick Papers or even A Christmas Carol. My choice would be Great Expectations and it’s a story you know which makes it easier to read. I do believe we have a contender.
My all-time favourite book, though, has to be considered. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, ‘my love for Heathcliff is like the eternal rocks beneath… Nelly, I am Heathcliff!’ I have read it about five times! What’s more, you are hugely familiar with the story having spent a weekend in Howarth walking in the footsteps of the Brontes. You also arranged a theatre trip for us last year to see the National Theatre’s youth actors perform their version of the novel (although I think we were the only ones who weren’t parents, siblings or Japanese tourists but it was still good!). So Wuthering Heights perhaps heads to the top of the list albeit an obvious choice.
But Dickens and Bronte are quite a challenge and for a non reader, perhaps too much of a challenge. Hal is currently reading his way through the works of Jules Verne, he has read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, is part way through Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days is pending. His verdict: once you get used to the language, it’s brilliant. More contenders.
But perhaps we should consider a more modern classic. Yes, Des, this read has to be a classic. How about The Great Gatsby? I love F Scott Fitzgerald and I have read all his novels, Gatsby about three times including just a few years ago in preparation for the Leonardo DiCaprio film although we didn’t get around to seeing it until the other week on DVD. The advantages of Gatsby, then, are extensive, it is relatively short so for a great work of literature, it is not great in volume, it is a modern classic so easier to read and having watched the film recently it makes it easier to follow.
Maybe we should consider something familiar as well as classic. Even more up to date is George Orwell. You read Animal Farm at school, I studied 1984 for my degree and most of us are familiar with the Orwellian principles that power corrupts and we will never create a utopian society of which he always dreamed. But my favourite is Homage to Catalonia, an account of Orwell’s time fighting for the socialists in the Spanish Civil War. His candid observations of idealists in disarray and factions on the left which assured the fascist Franco and his forces victory, leading to an iron fist rule lasting into the 70s, make for a compelling read.
Or how about something modern, classic, insightful, page-turning whilst being easy on the eye and mind? The Picture of Dorian Gray by the sardonic Irishman Oscar Wilde, a book I only read recently despite much familiarity with the writings of Wilde following a recommendation from my mum.
It’s another short classic and it will appeal to your Irish heritage plus will remind you of our trip to Dublin a few years ago. It included visiting the writers’ museum and joining the literary walk (in the rain) which incorporated a particularly funny letter from Wilde when he recounted reporting a visit to an American mine.
The hard-core American miners decided to give the gentlemanly Wilde a trip to remember and took him on a night time tour of the mine, the story goes. They proceeded to drink whiskey and play cards fully intent on inducing an unconscious drunken state. They planned to abandon Wilde in the mine to completely freak him out when he sobered up before ‘rescuing’ him in the morning.
What the miners stupidly didn’t consider was that Wilde was an Irishman (FFS) and he proceeded to drink them under the table to the point where he was the only one competent enough to operate the mine lift and return them all safely, if a little worse for wear, to the surface. I think you have acertain affection for your fellow countryman, Mr Wilde, so perhaps Dorian Gray would be the best choice.
So you see the conundrum I face. If I make a bad choice my quest will fail. And this is why I enlisted our friends and the reason for taking pen to paper or keyboard to printer. I think you are more likely to read a book in company.
Thus, I have selected a classic for you and our friends to read. I have asked everyone to enter into the spirit of my request, post their classic on Facebook and update us regularly with their thoughts on their read which I have carefully selected with them (and you) in mind. When we meet for takeaway, I have asked them to bring their book and share insights and favourite quotes. It will be like an impromptu and informal book club style session, how exciting, I can’t wait! I hope this will encourage you to read the classic I have selected for you.
Enjoy your read and I also hope I may have inspired you to pick up one of the other classics mentioned here.
With much love and appreciation