I recently heard a podcast about what Russians consider the best books ever. First place, no prizes for guessing, was War and Peace, and nipping at Tolstoy’s heels, wait for it….. Harry Potter. I love hearing Russians talk about Harry because they call him Gary. They’re also very keen on Sherlock Holmes, whom they call Golmz. But I digress. Way up on the Russians’ list was Pride and Prejudice, and I thought, ‘Really? Are you sure about that? You’re not thinking about the movie by any chance?’ I mean, I am a staunch fan of Jane Austen but I know that a lot of people who watch film versions of her books would never be arsed to actually read the books.
If we’re honest, we may nod approvingly when the canon of classic works is recited, but many of us haven’t really read the damned books. I’m going to come clean. Canterbury Tales? Only enough to get me though O Level English. Moby Dick? Just remind me, how does it end? The aforementioned War and Peace? Couldn’t wade through the battle scenes. Sorry. My name is Laurie and I’ve never read Proust. And The Dead is the only James Joyce I ever managed to finish in spite of my husband’s great enthusiasm for the man. I picked up Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle one night and it certainly sent me to sleep.
So what am I reading? Well, I just finished Len Deighton’s excellent Berlin Game, which made me look forward to bedtime so I could edge a little nearer to identifying the mole. And I am now reading Some Sex and a Hill which I hope will clarify for me why I have a sudden and inexplicable urge to study the Welsh language. An Englishwoman, living in Ireland? Yes, it makes perfect sense.
Let us hold our heads high and not be embarrassed by our reading choices. There is no literature examination at the end of life. Is there?