Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I was delighted to be invited by Paul to participate in the fortnightly Let's Blog Off  event and, first of all,  I'll let him explain the concept here:

"Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is 'What's the best book you ever read?' "

Now, I'm the woman who brought 6,000 books to Sicily so an excuse to write about some of them is always welcome. But the best book I've ever read?  How was I going to choose?

Well, I suppose a lot depends on how you define "best":  if the book I'm reading at any given moment is unputdownable, I'm likely to think it's the best I've read - until I start the next one!  I read a lot of biography and among the most interesting I've read in recent years are:  Maria Fairweather's superb account of the life of one of my heroines, Madame de Stael;   the aptly entitled Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes;  An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina;  and The Woman Who Shot Mussolini by Frances Stonor Saunders.

But wait a minute:  what if I define "best" in terms of books that have influenced me?  My studies have led me to read in three languages other than my own so I must admit that my literary influences are many and diverse.  Coincidentally, the other day I took part in a vote in which people selected their favourite authors from Nobel Prize in Literature laureates: after much deliberation I chose Albert Camus, not for L'Etranger [The Outsider] but for La Peste [The Plague] which I read in French at school and which challenged and changed my thinking more than any other book.  Then there is Voltaire who taught me tolerance, Balzac - so little read these days but a must for anyone interested in human nature - and my beloved Simone de Beauvoir. Lorca's poetry sustained my late teens, Gramsci's Letters from Prison my extreme leftie phase and I must not forget, among the poets, Modica's own Salvatore Quasimodo;  little did I imagine, all those years ago as I burned the midnight oil writing essays on his work, that I would one day come to live in his town.

Suppose, though, I take "best" to mean the book I would most like to take with me to get me through a  period of enforced solitude - on that mythical desert island, perhaps?   This, I've concluded, is the "best" definition of "best", when it comes to books!  At first I thought I would take something long and easy to dip into, such as the Larousse Gastronomique, but then I realised that such a volume might actually cause me distress if I only had berries to eat.  My next idea was to fall back on poetry and, having narrowed my poets down to Verlaine and Burns, I decided that Burns [with a glossary] just had the edge.

And then I remembered something else:  some years back, when I had to go into hospital, I took along Pages  from the Goncourt Journal to pass the time and I forgot all indignities, pain and discomfort as the nineteenth century French authors I'd studied so long ago passed through the volume like friends.  I even said "Hello" out loud to some of them.  In my life, friendship has been very important so a book full of "old friends" such as these is - for the moment - the best book I have ever read.

Below is the full list of contributors to this Blog Off theme:


Paul Anater said...

Brava! I can relate wholeheartedly. It was difficult to narrow them down because they change so often. Thanks for adding your voice today!

Joseph said...

Holy smokes! I haven’t read ANY of those books, and I read a lot! You also have a library considerably larger than my own large library! I guess that’s what comes of being a slow reader, which I am! I enjoyed your blog, though, and hope that you will continue to contribute every two weeks. I don’t know how others feel about it, but these bi-weekly blogs are my favorite ones to write. Welcome to our little group.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Paul. I enjoyed contributing. Hi, Joseph. Thank you for the welcome and welcome to my blog. Speed of reading doesn't matter. What's important is that we read. Yes, I really enjoyed thinking about and writing this post. I surprised myself in my conclusion!

Rosaria Williams said...

Wow, hard to write about just one book. You did find a way to parse out different highlights for different books.
If I had to choose this minute, it would still be The Divine Commedy, in italiano.

Patricia said...

Wonderful post. Lovers of books will all stand beside you. I feel like I need another lifetime to read all the books i want to...and now you have given me more to add to the list! And I only "read" in one language!

Claude said...

What an interesting, erudite list! With so many of my French books. Balzac, Camus...I would add Dumas, having read, at the age of 15, Le Comte De Monte Cristo (6 volumes) in 3 nights, with a flashlight, under the blanket, hiding from my mother. And of course Le Petit Prince de St-Exupéry. Plus Vol de Nuit et Terre des Hommes.

I came to English at the age of 24, and went from Daphné du Maurier to Austin, The Brontes and Dickens with passion. I could add so many, from Lamartine to Shelley, and would never be able to say who is the best..except the one I'm reading presently!

Thank you for a fascinating post. What would I take on an isolated island? The King James Version of the Bible. Because of the magnificent English language, and because the whole of life is encompassed in that book, page after page.

LindyLouMac said...

You are a very well read lady Pat, 6000 my goodness I thought we had lots but sure it is not that many although I have never counted!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Rosaria. I thought of Dante too when I was mulling this over. Thanks, Patricia. Yes, I need another lifetime to read all I want to, as well! Hi, Claude. Several of the other bloggers contributing to this theme chose Dumas and I am resolved to reread "The Count". Strangely enough, I can't stand St-Exupéry! Hi, LindyLouMac. You should do a count - you might be surprised!


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