After years of having my books thematically organised I decided it would be much more fun to have them in no sequence whatsoever. So I pulled them all off the shelves, shuffled them around, then replaced them completely at random, with absolutely no conscious engineering of which books might go next to each other. I would strongly recommend this exercise, it’s very liberating. Moreover, it’s also quite entertaining to look along your shelves afterwards, and see which books have ended up next to each other. I came across some interesting “pairings”, some of them funny, some eclectic, some surreal, and some downright disturbing.
So here are my Top Ten randomised book pairings, in no order of preference.
1. 100 Great Lives
It’s the juxtaposition of the two extremes in the titles that I like about this one. Life and death, side by side. One book contains mini-biographies of 100 famous people, from Alexander the Great to Winston Churchill. The other provides short and true anecdotes about bizarre and crazy ways of dying – about 150 of them (so death certainly has the edge). One is supposed to be inspiring, the other will make you collapse in a helpless heap of schadenfreude.
2. Wild Swans – by Jung Chang
Tragically I was an only Twin – by Peter Cooke
Jung Chang is a clever woman and an excellent writer, but she can be stern and serious, and I suspect she would be rather grim company (well to be fair she did have a rotten childhood growing up in the Chinese Cultural Revolution). But being next to the anarchic and foul-mouthed Peter Cooke might do her good and lighten her up a bit.
3. Weaveworld – by Clive Barker
Very Good Jeeves - by P G Wodehouse
The master of gruesome horror fantasy is now sitting alongside an English upper-class dimwit and his forbearing butler. What a strange conversation that could be.
4. River out of Eden – by Richard Dawkins
The autobiography of Roy Keane
This could easily end up in a punch-up: angry Catholic footballer versus angry atheist academic……
5. Among the Believers – by V S Naipaul
Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst – by Barbara Castle
A Room of One’s Own – by Virginia Woolf
V S Naipaul is a male writer who recently spoken rather disdainfully of female writers. Now he’s sandwiched in between two forthright and formidable women, Virginia Woolf and Barbara Castle, not to mention the Pankhurst girls. Serves him right.
6. Writing Home – by Alan Bennett
Selected Letters and Journals – by Lord Byron
Two gifted humourists together – they could have been very amusing together, but I fear Alan Bennett would just be too incoherent with excitement over his new neighbour to make a decent contribution
7. An English Madam: The Life and Work of Cynthia Payne – by Paul Bailey
Stories – by Oscar Wilde
Cynthia Payne is the cheerful lady who devised the ingenious sex for lunch vouchers scheme, which were apparently popular with high profile judges and political figures. I’m very happy to say that she is now in the witty and genial company of Oscar Wilde. What a delightful pairing and what bawdy gossip they could exchange!
8 (Oh dear!)
Heidi – by Johanna Spyri
Justine – by the Marquis de Sade
I felt so queasy when I came across this one – little Swiss Heidi in the company of the man with the filthiest imagination in Europe – that I broke my rule and rearranged them. They’re no longer even on the same floor – the Marquis’ new neighbour is a book about the rules of the game of boules, which should keep him out of trouble, and Heidi is now safely snuggled up to Squirrel Nutkin.
9. Candide – by Voltaire
A Drink with Shane MacGowan – by Shane MacGowan & Victoria Mary Clarke
A sophisticated philosopher and a permanently rat-arsed songwriter, both geniuses in their own ways, a shame they will be mutually unintelligible.
10. The Marx Brothers Scrapbook
The Second Sex – by Simone de Beauvoir
Although none of the foregoing are in any order of preference, I think this one is my favourite. I keep imagining the austere de Beauvoir playing the Margaret Dumont role, stoically forbearing, as Harpo tries to steal her turban, and Groucho makes insulting remarks about the size of her feet. It’s a wonderful scenario.
By Mary Redshaw
Former public servant and international relations practitioner, now cheerfully unemployed and keeping busy with reading, blogging, pratting around on the internet, walking the dog, and watching telly.