Cyril Connolly, the English writer, posited the Ten Year Test for books, suggesting that if a book is still being read ten years after being published, then it’s achieved longevity and, he seems to imply, will probably be read forever. (I’m paraphrasing loosely, and with apologies if I’m misinterpreting in doing so.)
But being read for more than ten years, or for ever … by who?
If it means being read by a kind of general reading population, that disqualifies a book that’s still being read beyond ten years by only a few readers, and takes us dangerously close to lists like The 100 Most Worthy Books, and Books a Person Must Read in Order to be Considered Educated, and school ‘approved reading lists’ (happily becoming a thing of the past, I think), and, worst of all in the preening smug arrogance of the people who compile them, the ‘Canons of Great Literature’.
I have no illusions, as a writer, about passing the Ten Year Test (but then I’ve never been very good at passing any kind of test), although I have five books ten or more years old (young adult fiction Walker’s Runners, Miss Little’s Losers, Just for Kicks, and Suspended, and adult fiction The Ragged Believers). I don’t know if any of them are still being read, although I often see the YA stories in schools and libraries, and every now and then a young reader will mention one or other of them, and I see The Ragged Believers in libraries, although of course that doesn’t mean it’s being taken out, and recently I came across a copy in a second hand book store, which might mean it was read at least once, or that the owner bought it, read the first few pages, thought, What a load of rubbish, and traded it in at the second hand book store for something better.
All of this is a preamble to my bestowing upon you (or inflicting upon you, depending on how you look at it) my personal list of books that have passed the Ten Year Test, books that resonate with me, that I read over and over again. (This is novels only. Non-fiction and poetry and drama might be another list.)
Of course as soon as you make a list like this you’re revealing far more than your reading tastes. You’re also baring your background, your personal quirks, and something of your psychological makeup, and in doing so you invite a quick psychoanalysis, not to mention scorn, amusement, derision, incredulity, etc., at the contents of the list. (What kind of a nutbar thinks that’s a good book?)
Still – here it is, in no particular order, with the invitation to append your own list (so I can get my own back and psychoanalyse you):
- The Cricket Match, Hugh de Selincourt
- Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
- On the Road, Jack Kerouac
- The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
- All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
- Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
- Strait Is the Gate, Andre Gide
- Eventide, Kent Haruf
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Over to you.