Tuesday, June 4, 2013

deathbed reading

Was reminded yesterday of John Irving's saying he was saving up Our Mutual Friend for his deathbed:

Of course this is madness: I am thinking of a 19th-century deathbed scene, where I am given proper warning that the end is near, and thus I am permitted to surround myself with friends and family....Violence and the unforeseen accident are the late 20th-century equivalents of the deathbed scene; even my doctor friends discourage me from thinking that I will necessarily be allowed the time to read it.

(One suspects Irving has never attended the long dying of, say, someone suffering from AIDS in the 1980s. BUT ANYWAY.) What a grisly question! I loved it of course and have been thinking of it ever since. What book would you read on your deathbed?

For me it would probably be Pride and Prejudice. (I know, I know, I can hear everyone from here: "NOT JANE EYRE?") Not Jane Eyre, not Great Expectations, not The Great Gatsby, not the poetry of Emily Bronte or A.E. Housman, no. Probably not Isak Dinesen. I carry the little pocket Emily Dickinson in my bag (okay, I admit, a large part of that is I love having Dickinson in my pocket; I imagine her peeping out like a mouse), but maybe not her either. But I would want something witty, something sparkling, something of the very best vintage; harrowing but rewarding at the end, as we all would like to imagine life to be. The feeling we are in the most capable firm hands. And something to make me laugh. I would like to have it read aloud, without stopping if medications and illness made me doze off -- I suppose an audiobook on CD would do as well, but one of the delights in reading Austen aloud is when the person reading it has to pause for one of those little indrawn-breath laughs, when something strikes them as inescapably funny they wouldn't laugh at while reading silently. Yes, that would be a good way to go.