As the shelves in my study finally begin to be ordered, I thought about which books I would keep if I were only allowed to have ten of them. These are the ones that I treasure the most today:
1. Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs
I have just about everything that I could find by Raymond Briggs from his Mother Goose treasury to his magnificent anti-Thatcher tirade "The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman". Fungus, however, is my favourite, combining my loves of graphic storytelling and existentialist despair. He always cheers me up. Plus, my paperback edition is autographed. I forced poor 7-year-old Noam to queue with me for ages at the Puffin Club Exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute to collect the inscription.
2. Penguin Modern Poets: The Mersey Sound
Except for readings by family friends, these guys are the only poets I've gone to listen to voluntarily. My copy of this edition is also autographed by all three after a gig somewhere near the River Thames, or maybe it was just that I was also keeping an ear on the Boat Race via a pocket radio during the poetry reading rather than we were actually near the river. I know we were in central London, and I went with Sophie Manham. Anyway, it's a battered old paperback but they wrote in it and I like reading it.
3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg
No autographs here. Just a cool book that still comes to mind each time I visit a museum and wonder where I'd hide and what I'd do once everyone else had gone home and I had the place to myself. Maybe my niece the daughter of a museum curator will find it on my shelf one day and enjoy it like I do.
4. Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary
It was a choice between this and Anne Frank's diary. Anne is more famous. She is more innocent, more universal, more optimistic; more most things perhaps. Hannah was only 23 when she was executed, not that much older than Anne. Yet she seemed more grown-up to me, and her bravery was more dramatic. That was the appeal of the book itself. In terms of volumes I treasure, however, I choose this because it was always hard to find and the copy that I have is a precious gift from my other sister that reminds me of a time when we were closer to each other.
5. The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Next to the Tanach, to which by virtue of my current profession I refer to constantly, I probably quote the five books of this trilogy more than any other writings I have read. And when I've read this and laughed and felt better, I'm hopeful again.
6. The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leonard Q Ross aka Leo Rosten
With this book I have wooed those friends of mine for whom English is a second language. I love to read it aloud to them. And it makes me laugh too. What better way to spend a little time?
If you have strong wrists and an earlier, lighter edition; this is the all-time perfect book for the bathroom. Also useful if you keep forgetting what it means to be hoist on your own petard.
8. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Having grown up in the UK I take the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood very seriously (I still haven't forgiven Kevin Costner for Prince of Thieves). Don't mess with my legends. Unless you are Mark Twain, and put Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table on bicycles.
9. The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
I don't know what it was like in other countries and for other generations, but the romantic heroes of my childhood as I was taught in school came from the lost generation of the First World War - those who died, and those who lived but were forever damaged by their experiences. I preferred Wilfred Owen and my sister went for Rupert Brooke, but we all still cry at the sight of poppy petals falling in November.
10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Apparently the fact that this book had a female protagonist in a sci-fi genre was the reason for its initial rejection and of course exactly the reason why I went for it. Anne Shirley, Katy Carr or Jo March but science fiction! Also, I fell in love with the character Aunt Beast. Back then I wished she were my mother. Now I'd like to be more like her.
This list took quite a while to put together. As I review it I think, o no, what about
how could I leave that out and which book should it replace and I really don't want to do any more editing. It is top of the list of near misses which also includes Fahrenheit 451, The Book of Letters and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. But it's time for bed. And there's always another blog post.