The first thing to be said about my bookcase is what a fiasco it is. I built this thing myself from an Ikea flat pack and it looks horrible. The back fell off within weeks and the shelves are wonky. My grandfather was a ship’s carpenter and my father was a ship’s engineer they would not have been impressed by my carpentry or engineering skills.
The best book on the shelf is the Collected Essays of George Orwell. 1400 pages in the single volume Everyman edition and an excellent piece of writing on every page.
The funniest book on there is either Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh or Summer Lightning by PG Wodehouse. Summer Lighting is not a Jeeves book and therefore tends to get ignored when compiling the best of Wodehouse but it’s a classic. It also contains the best introduction to a book ever: “A certain critic — for such men, I regret to say, do exist — made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.’ He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.”
The best crime novel on the shelf is probably The Cold 6000, James Ellroy’s cynical strange alternative history masterpiece about the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath.
My favourite British crime novel on there is David Peace’s 1980 about the hunt for the Yorkshire ripper. Bold, iconoclastic writing right from page1.
My favourite biography is up there on the top shelf: Werner Herzog: A Guide For the Perplexed. Herzog has lived and is living the exemplary artist’s life. Always trying new things, never compromising, never trusting the system.
The book I always reread is, of course, Pride and Prejudice. Usually once a year after Christmas. If English fiction had ended in 1818 we would have had six Jane Austen novels and as we say at Passover, dianu, it would have been sufficient.