The Daily Telegraph has been conducting its own survey of the books its readers can't live without. The stated purpose is to see if we still favour the classics or have 'dumbed down' in our literary tastes. I expect that Ulysses, Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, The Wisdom of Insecurity and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will retain their places in the top ten. But what does it all signify? That the same people bother to take part every year? That tastes remain static? That people say what they think they ought to say?
Every room in our house looks like this; the prospect of packing our books is what is holding up our plans to move house. With the spirit of the World Book Day in mind, I tried to select ten favourites. That proved impossible, so I thought, "Which books would you grab if the house were on fire?" That brought a surprising reaction: I discovered I would rescue the family photograph albums and all the scrapbooks we made when the children were small and then I would go for books with sentimental attachment.
So, my approach would be a kind of Desert Island Books. I would select books with memories attached, the choice being purely sentimental and having nothing at all to do with their literary or academic merit.
- From my own childhood, I would take Alice in Wonderland because this was the first book that I bought for myself. I can vividly recall going into the shop and proffering the five shillings I had been given for my seventh birthday.
- From my schooldays, I would take Northanger Abbey because that was my first encounter with Jane Austen and the start of a life-time's devotion to her work.
- How to represent my student days? The metaphysical poets? A modern novelist? Eliot, Hopkins, Donne? Ruskin , Carlyle or John Henry Newman? I'll take the Collected works of T S Eliot because that volume was given to me by a special friend and Sartor Resartus because it influenced my thinking in those days.
- My beautifully bound and illustrated Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, given to me by my husband on our wedding day, is a must.
- Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Pigling Bland plays an important part in the story of my marriage, so that would have to go with me.
- The Wind in the Willows would recall the magical early days with my children.
- The Linguistics of British Sign Language by Rachel Sutton-Spence and Bencie Woll would provide keep the professional part of my brain active and help me keep up my signing skills.
- My breviary would provide for my spiritual needs and it would also boost the literary section with its collection of psalms and poetry.
- I would have to have Calling of a Cuckoo by David Jenkins because it is the book I would have written if I had his talent.
That was a really painful exercise and I want to go back and change all my selections but I do have other things to do today. I hope my house never catches fire because I would hate to have to make real choices.
I'd be interested to hear about other people's significant books, rather than their favourites or most admired. Or how about the book you wish you had written?