Gosh. Cripes. Blimey. What a responsibility. I have just been asked by the delightful new Arts editor to inaugurate this column by writing a short, pithy piece on my favourite book. Publicity whore that I am, I couldnít bring myself to refuse.
But, though gratified to have been offered this privileged position, I cannot suppress a twinge of guilt. Should I really be the one writing this column? That would imply that I have a favourite book I would like to talk about. But rack my brains as I might, the fortune cookie of my mind sadly reveals itself to be empty. Or rather, it appears to be embarrassingly full of questions.
What is a favourite book, anyway? What does it feel like when you read it? When you turn the last page and read the final paragraph, knowing you will never again have the delight of reading it for the first time? What does it feel like to be so assured about your emotional bond with a work of art that you can say, without a hint of pretension, that it is your favourite?
I’m afraid that once the spigot opens, the torrent of questions canít be stopped. What criteria do we use to classify a favourite book? Are we talking form or content? The unread first edition hardback that gives you a secret thrill of pleasure each time you see it on your shelf, or the masterpiece youíd still happily read in evanescent e-book form?
So far, as I’m sure youll agree, there have been too many questions and too few answers. So let’s stop flagellating around the shrubbery and get to the point: What is my favourite book?
In all of its impeccably chosen 50,000 or so words, it is as far removed as it is possible to imagine from the world of the adventure novel or the action thriller.
The simple answer? I can’t tell you. I’m not being coy or intentionally contrarian, I just genuinely don’t know. What I can tell you, though, is which book I will round this piece off by recommending: the staggering De Profundis by Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. It’s an odd choice, but that’s only to be expected from an odd individual.
In all of its impeccably chosen 50,000 or so words, it is as far removed as it is possible to imagine from the world of the adventure novel or the action thriller. That’s probably owing to its nature as a letter written behind bars by the imprisoned Oscar Wilde to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, better known as Bosie. Hardly the sort of stuff that Robert Downey Jr. blockbusters are made of.
Despite the rather kitschy description I seem to have given it, the simple truth is that nothing I have ever read has even come close to moving me in a similar manner.
I could try to set down more of my thoughts here on paper, but youíll notice that I have craftily not given myself enough space. Thatís because I donít want you to waste your time reading what I have to say about the book. I want you to read it. I want you to read others. And then I want you to write in to Felix and explain why I should be reading them too.