If You Could Save Only Eight Books… Part One

22 Nov

I’ve been very short of writing time in recent months. As a consequence, my work-in-progress has been somewhat neglected. So, no, I haven’t written fifty thousand words in the last four weeks… I did manage to fit in a writing afternoon one day this week, though. And in those precious hours, I sketched out the idea for a short passage.

Most of the characters in my book have left their homes in a hurry. They have with them very few possessions. One character finds himself living in a confined space with a tiny bookshelf that will only accommodate eight books. I’m not going to tell you which eight books he has selected, not for the time being, at least. From time to time, my book is in the habit of addressing the reader directly. In this case, it asks him or her which eight books he or she would choose. I tried it out for myself, first of all. 

When I first thought about, it seemed that they’d have to be long books. That way I’d get more reading material. And then it occurred to me that trilogies by some of my favourite authors have been collected into single volumes – Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino, William Golding’s To the Ends of the Earth and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, for example. I decided that this was cheating. Those thick tomes would never fit on my character’s tiny bookshelf. And in fact, some of the very best books are also very short (regular readers of this blog will be aware of my fondness for the novella as a literary form).

Time is short. I must choose quickly or all will be lost. So here’s my list, in no particular order, apart from the first:

  1. Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec
  2. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
  3. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  4. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  6. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  7. The Aerodrome by Rex Warner
  8. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
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The eight that I rescued…

To be honest, if I’d picked the list on a different day, seven of the titles would almost certainly have been different. It’s my intention, over the coming weeks, to invite some of my fellow readers and writers onto this blog to share with us the eight books that they would take with them into exile and to tell us why.

Look at your bookshelves now, groaning under the weight of your collection (they must be or you wouldn’t be reading this blog). If you had to leave your home and could save only eight of those books, which ones would they be? It’s a difficult task, isn’t it? Nigh on impossible, you might say. Perhaps you’d still be there, long after the call had come to leave, running your eye across those shelves and your finger down the spines, paralysed into inaction, unable to choose…

All text and image © PSR 2013

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19 Responses to “If You Could Save Only Eight Books… Part One”

  1. Mari Biella November 23, 2013 at 4:13 am #

    Interesting post as always, Paul. I suppose it’d be cheating if I just grabbed my kindle, so I’ve just spent a few minutes thinking about which of my paper books I’d instinctively reach out for. It wasn’t easy, and I know I’d regret leaving so many others. Like you, I suspect my choice would vary from day to day. In the end, though, I decided on the following, in no particular order:

    ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates
    ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ by John le Carré
    ‘The End of the Affair’ by Graham Greene
    ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ by Umberto Eco
    ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James
    ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys
    ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad
    ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves November 23, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Hi Mari and thanks very much for commenting and taking the time to share your choices.

    I was going to ask you if you’d like to share your book choice with us and tell us a little bit about your own writing! Perhaps you could just visit to do the latter if you’re happy so to do…

    Anyway, that’s a very interesting list. On another day, the Greene and the Conrad might have been on my list too. I’m intrigued now to give ‘Revolutionary Road’ and ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ (sitting on my shelf) a go.

  3. Paul Sutton Reeves November 23, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Oh, and there are no Kindles in the fictional world of my work-in-progress – recent technological innovations are threatening to unpick all sorts of book ideas!

    • Mari Biella November 23, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

      Of course, Paul – it would be an honour! If you’d like, I could write about why I made the above choices. I feel much more comfortable talking about other people’s writing than my own!

      I suspect you’d enjoy ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’, as it involves many little verbal and numerical puzzles, which I think you’d appreciate. Eco’s background as a Professor of Semiotics is much in evidence! On your own list, I’m tempted to give the Borges and Warner a go.

  4. Paul Sutton Reeves November 23, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    That’s great, Mari – we’ll book you in, then!

  5. aktrang December 4, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    If I had to choose only 8 books, then the place I’m going to is not worth going. With life threatening urgency though, I would include the Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan and Owen Meany by John Irving.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 4, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      Hi and welcome. It’s the reader’s choice to leave or not… ‘Owen Meany’ was the favourite of an old friend of mine but I’ve not got around to reading it yet.

      • aktrang December 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

        It’s a great read and very funny

      • aktrang December 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

        Funny at some parts

  6. notju1ieorju1ia December 5, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    wow… only 8. I read A Prayer Owen Meany just this past year, having read two John Irving books back to back in my early 20’s I needed to give myself a break! It is an excellent choice to take. It wouldn’t have been in my collection only you reminded me of it.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Hi Noeleen. Only eight – that’s the rule! Lauren takes credit for reminding you.

      • notju1ieorju1ia December 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

        Ok… My 8 are:
        Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
        The true and outstanding adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
        The Stieg Larsson Trilogy,
        A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

        And now to agonise about the last two…

        The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon
        Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

        Ta da…

      • Paul Sutton Reeves December 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

        Thanks for sharing, Noeleen.

  7. eoindmadigan December 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    The Rebel, Albert Camus
    Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
    Shogun, James Clavell
    The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
    Mon père, ce harki, Dalila Kerchouche
    A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry
    The Dead Zone, Stephen King
    A Movable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

      Hi Eoin and thanks for commenting. That’s an interesting mix you have there. I love Hemingway. People keep telling me that I should love Murakami too. I’ve read three of his novels now but I’m still not feeling the love…

  8. djtoasterbiscuit December 6, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    I had a hard time deciding. But, I’d love to share!
    1984 – Orwell; Taming The Beast – Emily Maguire; Othello – Shakespeare; Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury; Pages For You – Sylvia Brownrigg; Animal Farm – Orwell; The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald; Regeneration – Pat Barker (I haven’t read the rest of the trilogy, but I’m sure I’d pick those for good measure).

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 6, 2013 at 7:07 am #

      Hi DJ and thanks for your contribution. ‘Fahrenheit 451’… what a great premise for a book – highly memorable.

  9. Jackie Paulson December 29, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Wow, this is hard for me right now as I am in college at age 47. So to add my eight right now is not easy; pondering it. I am going to write more with my blog:http://jackiespeaksit2014.wordpress.com/weekly-writing-challenge-dpchallenge/ and I recommend Tolle’s book The Power of NOW. See, we all need to stop living in the past and live in the present moment. It’s a must read for everyone. As an avid reader and book reviewer on Amazon, I tend to read more than if I did not keep track for the past three years. Forgive me for not adding 7 other books right now…but #1 is the bible of course. Your new fan, Jackie

    • Paul Sutton Reeves January 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

      Welcome, Jackie, and thanks very much for your thoughts! ‘The Power of Now’? That’s another one of which I haven’t heard.

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