It would, after all, be difficult to read them afterwards. I don’t normally get involved in memes, but there are some people to whom you just can’t say ‘no’.

[Edit: this meme is actually called ‘Fifteen books in fifteen minutes’, but I have a weakness for hyperbole.]

Instructions: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you — the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you.

Well, I got the list in less than fifteen minutes anyway. The descriptions took a bit longer, but I’ve kept them as brief as possible in keeping with the spirit of the thing. I promise that I really have read these.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Once read, never forgotten. Need I say more?

Douglas Adams: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This book worms its way into your mind and gradually takes over. I first read it when I was ten, after the school realised that it was best to let me choose my own reading material, and it took me a day. For ten years I burst out laughing every time I thought of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz’s poetry.

Cornelius Ryan: A Bridge Too Far

This is how popular military history should be done: painstakingly researched, impartial and readable. The stories from this one campaign alone beggar belief; and all those related here can be verified by at least two sources. The sheer work involved is staggering.

John Harris: Covenant with Death

Quite simply the best First World War novel I have ever read. The hope, the comradeship, the horror and the waste. The numbers involved in the first day of the Somme are so huge that a book like this helps to bring it into perspective by keeping it on a human scale: one battalion from inception to destruction.

Ronald Dixon: Echoes in the Sky: An Anthology of Aviation Verse from Two World Wars

Aeroplanes and poetry are a winning combination for me. I’ve had this book for upwards of twenty years now, and it never fails to give me pleasure. It ranges from the comic to the elegiac and stops off at all points between.

Brian Gardner: Up the Line to Death – The War Poets, 1914-18

Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle: The Compleet Molesworth

Nigel Molesworth, self-styled Curse of St. Custard’s, shares his mis-spelled views on school, parents, cricket, the future and the Flying Scotsman. It’s more than fifty years since these were published, and although education has changed beyond recognition, there’s something universal about the school experience that still resonates today.

Bede: Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People)

This is how history should be written. Bede could run rings round most of today’s historians, but in his day he was something very special. Memorable statements and incidents abound, including Gregory the Great’s “not Angles but angels” line (a pun that works in both Latin and English).

Richard Marsden: The Cambridge Old English Reader

Back in 2005, this was the most comprehensive Old English reader on the market. It contains selections from all of the major manuscript collections and complete texts of classics like The Dream of the Rood and The Seafarer. The comprehensive annotations make the translation seem easy, when in fact some passages and idioms can be all-but impenetrable without it. The author gave my essays good marks, so I’m returning the favour.

W.P. Ker: The Dark Ages

This is very dated now, but Ker was a very erudite man. His overview of Dark Age literature ironically calls into question that now deprecated term, since he shows the vibrant diversity and creative energy of the era. A very good guide to who was who in European literature over a thousand years ago.

E.H. Carr: What is History?

Thoughts on the nature, methods and purpose of history. Full of pithy quotations that make it look as though you’ve read a great many more books than this one.

Robert Heinlein: Citizen of the Galaxy

This is a short book that you can read in a day, but the story of Thorby’s journey from a slave market to become the owner of the corporation that tacitly assists it is unflaggingly compelling. The society of the Free Traders is particularly engaging.

Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure

Possibly the most depressing novel written in English. Hardy continues the theme of innocent country people destroyed by an unfair and uncaring society that marked Tess of the D’Urbervilles, as everything that Jude Fawley attempts turns to disaster. In my darker moments, I’ve felt a great deal of fellow feeling with the hapless protagonist, but how accurate is the portrayal? Professor Joseph Wright started out as a mill-hand and ended up editing the English Dialect Dictionary, and he was Jude’s contemporary.

Nikolai Gogol: The Diary of a Madman

Simply hilarious, even through the smudged glass of a translation. A man’s diary documents the slow collapse of his mind, with comic incidents.

Albert Camus: The Outsider (L’Etranger)

The definitive story of alienation and society’s unthinking persecution of those who fail to conform to its expectations. Camus wrote a monograph on Existentialism as a humanist philosophy, and this novel is informed by just that spirit.

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