I’m currently reading Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest. Tesson is a French travel writer who spent six months living alone in the Siberian taiga, five hours walk from his nearest neighbour. Among the items he took with him (including eighteen bottles of Super Hot ketchup, ten boxes of paracetomol for vodka hangovers and a French flag for Bastille Day) were around sixty books. Which got me thinking. What books would I take with me into six months of solitude?
I wouldn’t need sixty. I’m a slow reader and anyway I suspect I’d need to spend more time than he did learning how to chop wood. I decided on three categories: practical books, improving books and entertainment. Just two volumes aimed at self-improvement. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (a guide to the classical education I never had) and The Trivium – the Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric. I’ve owned both of these books for years but I apparently need to go into solitary Siberian confinement ever to sit down and learn from them.
In my practical library I’d need identification books on birds and plants and in particular on mushrooms. Otherwise I fear I’d be dead, done in by a risotto, long before I achieved that much desired well-educated mind. For entertainment I’d like a selection of Evelyn Waugh, Elmore Leonard, Mark Twain, Jessica Anya Blau and Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe stories. And if there’s any room left in the 4×4 transporting me to my log cabin I’ll have a vocal score of Messiah, plus a tuning fork, and some poetry. I might let someone else choose the poetry, for an element of serendipity.
Should I take along the cookbook that has recipes for squirrel? Naah. Knowing my ability as a marksman I’d probably be forced into vegetarianism shortly before being eaten by a bear.
Anyway, just so’s you’re clear, I’m not actually going into the taiga. We used to own a little wooden house in the wilds of Friuli and after five days of silence, broken only by the gnawing of rodents, the snuffling of wild boar and the buzzing of some distant chainsaw, I was whimpering to go back to the city.