47 1 min 10 yrs

What time do any of us have left? Forty years? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? Months, Days, or minutes. We know not when, etc.

How many books can we read in a year? 53? 20? 2?

Do the math.

How many books do I have left to read? 200? 100? If I try hard, don’t reread (which I do). How to pick, what to pick, where to pick.

So, give me books you think we should read before we die? I’ll offer some ideas myself as the thread grows or dies). In other words, what book is a must read before one croaks? Or what author? What book would you think you would have needed to read, or told people they needed to read before going to that great library in the sky.

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47 thoughts on “The Shelf Life of My Library

  1. Well, 1984 is essential reading but I suspect it would bring the moment of expiration closer if read too late in life.
    A good choice would be..The Bible!
    Other great works I would comment are Shakespeares sonnets anything by Dickens and of course the inestimable Dostoyevsky.

  2. Classics David, and good choices. I was thinking more in terms of what I have yet to read. I’ve picked up and put down The Sound and the Fury without reading it. I can commit, and it isn’t long. I actually reread my last three recently read books (Pete Dexter’s Spooner, George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman at The Charge and PG Wodehouse’s Right Ho Jeeves – time well spent). I guess I am just thinking about limitations on time and selection.

  3. Best book I have ever read?

    ‘Trustee from the Toolroom’, or ‘Round the Bend’; both by Nevile Shute.

    Third is a novel called ‘The Summer Day is done’ by Mary Jane Staples, writing under the pen name Robert Tyler Stevens.

  4. “Frost On My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer” by Tim Moore is perhaps the funniest book I’ve ever read.

    Some of his others are also very good (e.g. Spanish Steps, Continental Drifter, French Revolutions).

    It is indeed terrible to reflect that you don’t have time to read every book and hear all music etc. My philosophy is to start as many books as I can manage and be prepared to not finish them if they don’t grab me.

  5. “The Geordie handbook on Pot stirring” Mike Cunningham.
    “Brain Spotting” Frank O’Dwyer
    “The Fall of the British Empire” Ernest Young and Algernon Agit8ed.
    “How to lose Friends and Alienate People” Allan McTatters
    “How to have fun Camping” Colm O’Shaunessy
    “The American Civil War including many pictures of Guns” Trolli O’ Shaunessy

  6. I wouldn’t list my favourite books because I just couldn’t choose them. I have thankfully enjoyed most of the books I have read and enjoy them for so many different reasons that to talk of ‘best’ books if impossible. The one thing I always do though is finish a book. No matter how long it may take me to get into it, if I do at all, once I start a book I will always complete it.

  7. Shakespeare is too deep and flowery for me. I don’t doubt his greatness. I just can’t be bothered.
    The Unutterable Beauty by GA Studdert Kennedy
    John Halifax Gentleman by Mrs Craik.
    Dandelion Days by Henry Williamson
    Tarka the Otter ditto
    Bevis, the Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies
    The Darling Buds of May H.E Bates
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
    The Time Machine HG Wells
    Three Men in a Boat Jerome K Jerome
    The Robe by Lloyd C Douglas
    and of course most importantly The Bible.

  8. Colm – Yeah. I am not listing favorites or a best list, more of a reflection of trying to decide what to read, so much choice so little time (course I plan on being around until 100).

  9. Mahons

    Wait for my autobiography – Now THAT will be a book you must read before you die 🙂

  10. Colm – certainly before you die! Yeah, I am thinking of books that I have to get to more than what I have gotten to already.

  11. “Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall” by Spike Milligan, or “Rommel? – Gunner who? – Confrontation in the Desert” by the same author.

    Milligan should really be one of the unifying heroes of ATW, as he was a misfit with the soul of an anarchist, but is unfortunately never mentioned here.
    Late in life, although he was a personal friend of Prince Charles and had received numerous awards, he was declared stateless by the UK, and became an Irish citizen by default. When he died, the English cemetry authorities refused to have his chosen epitaph written on his headstone (“Well, I told you I was sick”), and it had to be written in Irish instead.

    On a more sober note, to steel you against fear, especailly fear of death (and the post does suggest a certain melancholy), I found several of Albert Camus’ books: the Rebel, Myth of Sisyphus, to be just the ticket, as well as the writings of Krishnamurti.

    As Mark Twain said: Look, nobody’s getting out of here alive.

  12. “As Mark Twain said: Look, nobody’s getting out of here alive.”
    In your case one could take some small comfort from that..
    I used to be afraid of dying, but after receiving much encouragement in that direction I decided it might be worth researching.

    Spike was a very talented and complex man.
    He suffered greatly from depression.
    Whether that was due to his makeup, his war experiences or his Irish background I do not know.

  13. “but after receiving much encouragement in that direction…

    That sounds like someone trying to prompt you into killing yourself 😉

    PS – How can you research dying. It’s not as if people who have experienced it can write about what it was like !

  14. “That sounds like someone(s) trying to prompt you into killing yourself ;)”

    You are very quick aren’t you Colm? 🙂

    Re dying, the Bible has a lot to say on the matter. I thought it was a good place to start.

  15. “Re dying, the Bible has a lot to say on the matter. I thought it was a good place to start.”

    Such a popular book, I wonder why the people who wrote it didn’t write a sequel?

    Haven’t heard much from them lately for some reason.

  16. So, give me books you think we should read before we die?

    That’s a Herculean request Mahons.

  17. Frank,
    That’s because they died, mate.
    What did you expect?

    The sequel will come, but you may may have chosen not to attend the launch..

    1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

  18. “That’s because they died, mate.”

    Ya think?

    “What did you expect?”

    Well I got the impression it wasn’t what they expected.

  19. 66 Books?
    Numerous authors?
    And you think they didn’t expect to die?!
    Where’s your evidence Guv?

    St Paul expected to die, So did St Peter, St John, Moses, most of the Prophets.
    But at the end of the day it’s all about faith Frank.
    You don’t believe. I do.

  20. I assume we are not limited to fiction?

    Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection
    Carl Sagan: Cosmos

    And anything by Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond or Stephen Jay Gould.

  21. What to read? Depends what you’re interested in. I’ve never seen the point in reading anything else. If you’re not interested in the subject matter you’ll struggle to get through it and remember nothing of it.

  22. That’s a pretty poor illustration.
    The Questions for Bible thumpers section wasn’t up to much either..
    I hope you don’t mind but I have passed it on to some Christian friends.
    John 3:16 sums it up. God loves man and sent Jesus Christ to make reconciliation possible.
    So no true Christian of any denomination worships God out of fear.
    Secondly you believe this life is the only one and you live it as you see fit.
    A Christian believes that there is a life after death, and that he/she will spend eternity with God.
    In the meantime they try to share God’s love in practical ways and the gospel of redemption however they can.
    Now when that Christian dies and there is nothing; they just cease to exist, what will they have lost?
    They simply cease to be, as does the non believer.
    But if the opposite turns out to be true..

    So many people assume that people of faith are either stupid/brainwashed or afraid. But actually most believers have doubts and questions, perhaps all their lives. But they are content to give those doubts to God in the belief that He will answer them in His own good time.

  23. Peter- Not limited to fiction. I like good biographies and history.

    Petr – I prefer my atheists works to have more wit and charm.

    Pete – I suppose, though oddly enough some times I have been surprised in reading a book I didn’t think I would like or a book on a topic I had not had any prior interest in.

  24. Petr

    I was referring to Dawkins as a scientist, not his self-appointed role as Atheist in Chief.

    The Blind Watchmaker is a highly readable explanation of Darwininian theory.

  25. I like good biographies and history.

    The late Roy Jenkins wrote excellent (shortish) biographies of both Winston Churchill and Herbert Asquith.

  26. I’ve just crashed through the 17 (so far) Reacher novels by Lee Child. All good fun. Between now and the next I’m going to re-read four stone cold classics.

    Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time. A modern (alright, 1950s) detective investigates Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. The greatest detective novel bar none.

    George Shipway: Imperial Governor. Written as Suetonius Paulinus’ memoir. The very best Roman novel.

    Alan Furst: Dark Star. Europe, 1927, spies and deception. Very dark, foreboding and an incredible novel.

    AW Mykel: The Salamandra Glass. A thriller jumping between WW2 and later days. I read it 25 years ago and finally found it again for a penny on amazon a few weeks ago. Robert Ludlum could only dream of writing something like this.

    That’s my reading for the next few months. Each of them a classic which everyone should have at.

  27. Pete,
    I’ve just finished the last one too, but I had to pay our library to get them all for me.
    Next job is to work through all the Mitch Rapp stories by Vince Flynn.

  28. “Doesn’t make it true though Peter. There are lots of clever people who disagree with his reasoning.”

    It’s not about being clever and not really a matter of opinion. The evidence makes it true.

    Pretty good and readable books on the evidence are “Why Evolution is true” and “The greatest show on earth”.

  29. A8

    I’m sorry, but I cannot take seriously any argument that Darwin was wrong. His theory has been proved well beyond reasonable doubt, except to die-hard creationists who are not open to rational argument and scientific evidence.

  30. Peter –

    I’m not a creationist and I’m not wholly convinced by some of Darwin’s theories. There you go.

    Having said that, can we have an occasional thread which doesn’t end up with God please, Bible fans?

  31. BTW

    Very intersted in Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time.

    May well read this. As an undergraduate, my history professor delivered a great lecture on the Princes in the Tower, arguing that they were murdered by Henry VII, not Richard III. He made it clear that this was not his view, but he presented the evidence for the argument.

  32. “Having said that, can we have an occasional thread which doesn’t end up with God please, Bible fans?”

    Point taken Pete.

  33. A8

    In my experience no scientific theory is easy. But there is evidence for evolution in action in the plains of Africa. Elephants are growing shorter tusks in response to poaching. Why? Because the elephants which have longer tusks are more likely to be killed by poachers and therefore their long tusk genes will tend not to get passed on.

    I got into an interesting discussion on ferrets yesterday (yes, I know, get a life mate). As you may know, ferrets are domesticated polecats, but they have white fur while the polecat has dark fur. We have no polecats in Ireland, but we certainly have ferrets and some have escaped to the wild and may well be breeding in the wild (feral ferrets). If this is happening, it is certain that within a few decades, these ferrets will develop darker coats, for the simple reason that white coats make them very vulnerable to predators (foxes, dogs) and the ones which tend towards darker coats will tend to survive better and pass on their darker coat genes.

    It’s not rocket science.

  34. I can’t imagine my bedside table without six dozen books parked next to the lamp or the bookshelves not overflowing into great, topsy stacks scattered all over the house. I think I’d die if deprived of books.

    Here’s my list, but it could change within the next half hour.


    Everything You Need, A.L. Kennedy
    The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
    Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (also excellent The Thousand Autums of Jacob De Zoet)
    Duane’s Depressed, Larry McMurtry
    Bell Canto, Ann Patchett
    Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel
    The Patrick Melrose Novels, Edward St. Aubyn
    Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier


    Flat Rock Journal; A Day in the Ozark Mountains, Ken Carey
    Cleopatra A Life, Stacy Schiff
    1421; The Year China Discovered America, Gavin Menzies
    The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll
    God of the Rodeo, Daniel Bergner
    A Year in the Maine Woods, Bernd Heinrich
    Jesus Interrupted, Bart D. Ehrman

  35. Mahons, there’s no definitive bucket list.

    Read books that give you joy, spark your imagination, send you on unexpected journeys, make you weep, reveal unknown corners of the world, lift your spirit, educate your ignorance, give great argument, send chills up your spine or cause you to unexpectedly laugh out loud.

    Read books that let you fall in love with the written word all over again.

  36. “I’m not a creationist and I’m not wholly convinced by some of Darwin’s theories.”

    To think the subject is ‘Darwin’s theories’ is to not understand the question.

    Darwin was wrong about some things but then Darwin also ceased to be an expert on evolution in 1882.

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