The inspiration for this – or, at least the questions for this – come from a magazine article in which Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) recounts the role of books in her life. I thought I would take the questions and add my own spin. By the way, I’ve never read EPL and have no immediate plans to.
The book I enjoyed most in school: Aside from Mr. Bear Squash You All Flat I don’t recall many books from school that particularly riveted me. The frolics of Dick and Jane were pretty much lacking. I did most of my reading at home and loved the kid classics like Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, but definitely ‘not’ the Arthur Ransome books that my aunt thought I’d love and hence she gave me a full set of them. Bunch of poncey little English twits they were and hence I’ve never read them, but still have them.
A book I read in secret: I give credit to my mother who did not believe in censoring my reading. But she questioned a bit why I wanted to read Peyton Place when it first came out as the salacious novel of its day. Pretty tame stuff now, but it did make reference to Rodney Harrington’s hard-on, and you didn’t get that kind of stuff much in those days. That notwithstanding, I don’t think I read it in secret. But it embarrassed me to think my mom knew about that kind of stuff.
The books I’ve read over and over: Like Gilbert I have read certain poets and bit of poetry over and over because I tend to get a bit more from repeated readings, but I honestly don’t think I have ever read a book twice.
A classic I am embarrassed to say I have never read: I’ve always ‘meant’ to read Joyce’s Ullyses but other than the ribald Mollie Bloom passages, I have never had the energy. Loved the Dubliners, though. But when I tried to plough into Ulysses all I could think was WTF? Likewise War and Peace. Life is too short. I did read Dr. Zhivago, though and it was worth the slog. The film did not do justice to the magnificence of the novel. I have read some Faulkner but not much. Had to read Moby Dick in university. Always regretted the time spent. “Call me Fishmeal.”
A book I have pretended to have read: Like her, the Bible. I mean I have read bits. Practically everybody has read bits, and the 23rd Psalm and Ecclesiastes work for me, though in the case of the latter I prefer the Byrds version.
A book I consider to be grossly overrated: You have an hour to spare. Basically avoid 90% of what is on any bestseller list. Because it’s popular with the masses, it doesn’t mean it’s good, or worthy of your time. Various Martin Amis works I’d like to have liked better but I always end up finding him to be a bit of a shit. But, he comes by it naturally, considering his father, Kingsley, was even more of a shit.
The books I wish I had written: Easy, the complete works of Douglas Adams, followed by the complete works of Bill Bryson, with a considerable amount of Paul Theroux and Wally Lamb thrown in. I was also very impressed with the style and storytelling of Richard Ford with Canada.
My favorite movie versions of books: Not many. I’d have to opt for Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, mainly because it’s got Bogey, and then B. Traven’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, also Bogey and wonderful Alfonso Bedoya, the bandito’s bandito. And Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and also her chilling classic, Strangers on a Train.
What I’m reading right now: Paul Theroux’s The Last Train Ride to Zona Verde. If you have planned to visit some of the more troubled areas of Africa, peruse this first. It might change your mind a bit if you were thinking of some sort of Club Med adventure.