I am suffering from a book hangover, a terrible affliction that blights my reading life once or twice a year. There are two specific reasons that lie at the heart of this debilitating condition: the first, life events that are so overwhelming your poor brain cannot rest on the printed word long enough to absorb meaning or pleasure; the second comes after finishing a book that takes your breath away such that you hesitate before starting another as it surely couldn’t measure up. The fact that I am in the process of moving house partly explains my predicament. Having just finished a marvellous new book (I’ll tell you all about it in August) compounds my sorry situation. The only cure for such a tiresome curse is time and temptation and before you know it this bilious blip will soon become a thing of the past.
For hard times, when you just can’t choose, you need a few titles to tide you over, safe in the knowledge that they are recognisably ‘good books’, written by well-respected authors, the kind of books you’ve perhaps meant to read but haven’t got around to or even ones that you’d read again and again.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is a book I’ve never got around to reading so that’s definitely on my emergency pile. The 1939 film starred Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard but I didn’t see it until 2004 when I was dragged along (by my good friend Pauline) to a special screening in a Dublin cinema only to find I enjoyed every single minute. Needless to say times have changed and this is definitely a controversial story set in a time of slavery on a large plantation that kept its owners in relative wealth, while the people who worked the land, cooked, cleaned and brought up their owners’ children were treated as less than human. But Scarlett O’Hara is an iconic character who can be summoned up to describe a certain type of woman, and that famous line, delivered by Rhett Butler, has entered the human psyche: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers has beckoned to me since I started work at Dubray Books and is definitely one I’d like to get under my belt even though I haven’t a clue what it’s about! I’m reliably informed that it concerns espionage and was extremely influential in the genre of spy fiction. The author, a Fenian revolutionary, was executed during the Civil War having been caught smuggling guns into Ireland aboard his yacht, Asgard. Though his young life was cruelly cut short, he was father to the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers, so his name continues to live on.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth was published amidst much fanfare in 1993. I remember putting my name down at the end of a long list with my local library and waiting an inordinate amount of time before I could bring this mammoth novel home to enjoy. This is also on my emergency pile as I fully intend re-reading it now I’ve forgotten almost everything about the story other than the hours of enjoyment that transported me into a completely different time and culture. Set in the ’50s, in a newly independent India, when politics and religion were at crisis levels, ordinary people just got on with their lives: bringing children into the world and, after an appropriate education, finding them suitable partners for life.