Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Last Books

There's something deeply upsetting about the notion of someone – and one day, yourself – reaching the point where you put down Pride and Prejudice and think, well, that's the last time I'll read that. When I read a book I really love, part of the pleasure for me is the knowledge that it's not gone forever; that I'll come back to it in a couple of years' time. Recognising that a point will come where this isn't the case could well constitute the closest I've ever come to acknowledging my own mortality … Then, there's the question of which books you'd store up for a final read. I'd put Wuthering Heights in there, I think, and definitely Updike's Rabbit tetralogy, and Bruce Chatwin's On the Black Hill. If it's not too maudlin, I'd be interested to hear what you'd choose, too. Either way, I recommend Athill's Yesterday Morning heartily – whether you've read it before or not.
A bit morbid this, but Sarah Crown's post on The Guardian blog certainly struck a chord with me, as I know I'm (subconciously) working on my mental list of books I want to revisit "before it's too late".

Old friends like Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, Carson McCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow will definitely have to be saved up for the long goodbye.

I remember an elderly British novelist telling me some time back about how he was giving away most of his most of his personal library - books he'll never read again - and just keeping the few that he would want with him. I'm sad I didn't ask him what those most precious books were.


Stefania said...

I've also read that elderly people, especially novelists, tend to re-read books they loved instead of venturing into new stuff. Nadine Gordimer for example declared that she is so old that she's only re-reading the classics of her adolescence because otherwise she won't have any more time to do it.
In my "before the long goodbye list": certainly "Wuthering Heights", "Crime and Punishment", some good old Shakespeare and a few French classics.

bibliobibuli said...

"crime and punishment" is in mine too, but I've read it 3 times already and may fit in another couple of readings. i could say the same too of "the wide sargasso sea" by jean rhys.

Awang Goneng said...

This brings to mind Diana Athill, an author I admire greatly and love. In her nineties she is not only reading, but also writing books. (Before reaching 90 she edited but never wrote books. In Stet she gives two delicious snippets of thoughts on the authors George Mikes and V.S."Sir Vidia" Naipaul). Her books are wonderful, thoughtful and are such a pleasure to read.

I recently met an old academic (maybe I'm being unfair as he's still - in his eighties - very active in his academic pursuits), He spoke of his library of books,a lifetime's collection, that he was trying to sell. His wife had actually voiced the thought that was playing in my head::Aren't you sad that you'll actually be giving away friends that you've had most of your life? He just answered that with a shrug. When I went home I received an email from him saying that he'd been looking at his collection and found one that he wanted me to keep, a copy of Kitab Kiliran Budi, edited by R.O.Winstedt. He apologised because he had made annotations in the book when he was learning Malay, and later when he was teaching it to his students at London University. I too, many years after the Professor, read Kiliran Budi when I first stepped into a school, a Malay School, in Ladang in Kuala Trengganu. So, to me, the book will be of great sentimental value, and even more valuable with the Professor's annotations in its pages.