Currently appearing on Facebook is a meme wherein you list 10 books that have stayed with you. No, I haven’t been tagged, and no, I don’t mind that I haven’t been tagged. My first thought was, how would I possibly narrow it down to 10? And if I did, within the hour that list would have changed a dozen times. And really, if you’re a reader, then that list should be changing constantly. Certainly there are books that would stay with you, but that should be a living, breathing, changing set. And if it’s not more than ten books, you haven’t read enough to be making such a list. Yes, I know, I’m coming across as an intellectual snob here, but I don’t think I am. Not really. Reading has always come to me as easily and subconsciously as breathing and eating. It’s just something I’ve always done.
My wife read some of the lists from Facebook to me. I could pick out the English teachers there – lists full of high school required reading or books that should have been. And then there are the people who use that kind of list to tell people about the books they think people would say they should have read, the “I read ‘War And Peace’ one rainy weekend” types. Although I’m sure that’s possible – I read both volumes of William Manchester’s ‘The Glory And The Dream’ over an extended weekend in my twenties, during a time when I was a socially hopeless book nerd (today I’m only a somewhat socially hopeless book nerd). But I know some of those people, and I’m pretty sure they all haven’t read “The Brothers Karamazov”. Go ahead, admit that you read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and liked it. We all did, back in the Seventies. We got better.
So, if I did make such a list, what books would be on it? Lots of history books. You could get a good idea of what that list would look like by browsing the Books category on this blog. But just an idea, not a definitive list. ‘Lord Of The Rings’ would definitely be on there. And, as I said, lots of history books. Maybe I’ll make a list. Most likely, though, I would end up moving on to new books before I finished. Speaking of which, I’ve been reading a series of books on the period from roughly 1875 to 1920, which have conspired to convince me that many, if not most, of the problems we’re dealing with in the world right now can trace their origins back to those years, when the European powers – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Belgium – were either pulling back from their colonial empires or having those colonies taken away by force. So many arbitrary “national” boundaries were drawn by people who had no feel for the regional and local dynamics, and were trying to further agendas that wouldn’t have cared anyway. “The Guns Of August”, “Sleepwalkers”, “The Vertigo Years”. Now I’m in a fiction mode, and I’m reading, for the first time, Cold War spy novels, harkening back to a time when we had one Big, Bad Enemy that frankly made more sense to use than the world we have now. I just finished Le Carre’s “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”. Now I’ve started “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. From there, who knows. It will be a list of its own.