Literary Potatoes & Gold

Yesterday we went to a friend’s house, for some post-work (for the four others there) middle-class conversation. I honestly hope never to have discussions about ways of cooking steak and licking bread ever again (don’t ask, you don’t want to know). But I was asked a generic question.

‘If you were on your own for the rest of your life, and you could only read one book; what book would it be?’

Yes, it’s the modern equivalent of the ‘trapped on a desert island’ crap. I immediately went to say Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, but then I realised that what relevance would that novel have if not immersed in society?

I started to think of it in terms of that old adage; ‘On a desert island, potatoes are worth more than gold’. What use would a novel about money, or the lack thereof, and society be, to me, if I was in a world were money meant nothing, were society was less relevant than it already is?

For all that it is a fascinating novel, for all that I could draw simple pleasure from the prose and the narrative, would its socio-political content mean anything to me? Would I understand Comstock’s complaints about the monetary system, would I have sympathy for his romance with Rosemary?

Then I moved into Camus, considering that perhaps the Outsider or the Fall might entertain me, with their even more beautiful prose, but no. Once again, without society, could I even comprehend half of the arguments or situations those existentialist texts convey? What use would an Outsider be, outside of society by reality, rather than choice? What use would the Fall of a man be in a place where no falling could be? I couldn’t live forever, by drinking and visiting whores. I couldn’t be the very antithesis of societies normality, with no norm to subscribe to.

Perhaps Literary Fiction, in of itself, is worth less than ‘Genre’ Fiction when alone, truly alone. Could I not enjoy the prose of Tolkien or Pratchett whilst alone, whereas any thought those texts I gravitate to might encourage would be useless to me?

Maybe Literary Fiction is my gold, compared to Genre Fiction’s potato.

Maybe it is worth more, to me, because I say it is?

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