What is your favourite book?

by SJ Griffin

What a question. Let me think. My top ten favourite books today are:

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
Fiesta: The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood
1984 by George Orwell
The Maltese Falcon By Daishell Hammett
Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I say today because that might change, a couple might drop off tomorrow to be replaced by others. Where, for example, is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? One thing that very rarely changes is my love for Confederacy of Dunces.

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Jonathan Swift

Tell me about it.

The hero, and I use that word in its loosest sense, of this masterpiece is Ignatius Reilly. In the foreword of the book Walker Percy describes Ignatius as a “slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one” and  I’m not going to argue with that.  He is to self-knowledge what Mr Kipling is to calorie control.

Ignatius is 30. He lives at home with his mother. His poor mother.  He’s writing a book and has only travelled outside of New Orleans once. The story of his bus journey is much told and terribly traumatic, to Ignatius. One day he is almost arrested, then involved in a car accident when his tipsy mother is driving and before he knows it he’s out looking for a job. Ignatius is, as you might suspect, not cut out for the world of work. He tries selling hot dogs, then he works in a trouser factory and as he staggers from one adventure to the other he meets a cast of Dickensian characters. If Dickens frequented seedy nightclubs and dull offices.  And in the end it all comes together and is sad and funny and illuminating and confusing and everything I want in a book.

It’s also very clever book, indeed Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer in 1981 so it’s very much That Kind Of Book. I don’t always want that in a book but, in this case, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the first thing about Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy which gives the book its structure and becomes a smart plot device. The inimitable Mr Reilly sails through the book with enough puff and bluster to keep you going on all his adventures with him. I learnt everything I know about filing from Ignatius. It’s one of those life affirming books that everyone should have in their favourite books list.  It is just my opinion but to be honest I’ve stopped being friends with people because they didn’t like this book. It’s a great judge of character, so dislike it at your peril. I’m kidding. Mostly.

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