I received a short letter from a reader about my decision to read the books of PG Wodehouse. She mentions how long ago it was that Wodehouse wrote the ‘Jeeves’ series.
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was a writing machine. He published a staggering 90 books, 40 plays and 200 short stories. In 1957 Wodehouse wrote: ‘If you ask me to tell you frankly if I like the name Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, I must confess that I do not … I was named after a godfather, and not a thing to show for it but a small silver mug which I lost in 1897.’ He was called ‘Plum’ by family and friends.
I also received another letter from a reader about one of my favourite books, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane.
All this interest in authors from long ago and their works made me realise how resilient some books are. Jane Eyre was published in 1847. That’s 169 years ago and it’s still being read today. I wonder what Charlotte Brontë would think of that? She wrote four complete novels (and an unfinished one called Emma) and some poetry, and all her novels are still in print today.
But there are books that were written much longer ago that still adorn the shelves of our bookshops today. Metamorphoses by Ovid, the ancient Roman poet, was first published in 8 AD and first translated into English in 1480. Poems seem to be great survivors; the Epic of Gilgamesh first appeared nearly 4000 years ago. The I Ching , a Chinese book used in divination, is one of the oldest books still being produced, although no-one can put a firm date on the year is was first published. It’s been suggested that it first appeared somewhere between the 10th and 4th centuries BCE.
It’s quite a feat for an author to have all their books still in print. I wonder in 100 – or even 500 – years’ time which books will still be around. The Book Thief? The Kite Runner? The Poisonwood Bible? Surely The Hobbit and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ will survive the test of time as they ignite our imaginations, regardless of the age of the reader. What about the unstoppable ‘Harry Potter’? Will those modern classics – such as Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird – still be in print?
Some books are just timeless. But what makes these books withstand the passing of time and the changing tastes of readers? How many books have you read that, after putting them down, made you think This is going to become true classic that will survive the ages? A large number of Booker Prize winners are now out of print. So even though they were highly thought of when published, that doesn’t guarantee that the rest of us agreed and will continue to read them. What modern books do you think will still be around in 100 years’ time?
Here at Good Reading we are working on finalising our new website, which we are all very excited about. All gr articles and reviews will be available not only in a digital replica of the printed magazine – as we do now – but also in a web format, so that you will be able to read them on our website. We’ll also have videos, more information about new books to keep you up to date and more of the latest news and views about the book world.
You’ll also be able to purchase books if you wish. We are partnering with Booktopia, who be supplying the books. We recently toured Booktopia’s mammoth warehouse and I was gobsmacked by the incredible number of books available. It was fun to see all the books whizzing around on conveyer belts and getting placed in packages that had all the air sucked out of them before they were sent to customers. It was an exciting place to be. It’s great to see an Australian company taking on the goliaths, such as Amazon, and doing such a great job.
Here’s to looking forward to a fabulous year of reading and talking about great books.
And Baxter, who still thinks the best toy is an empty plastic milk bottle.