The First XV selected in the bookshelf reveal your personality

Someone’s selection of their 15 favourite books tells as us much about them as a full-blown...
Someone’s selection of their 15 favourite books tells as us much about them as a full-blown psychiatric profile. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
That you are reading the opinion page suggests you are a book person.

Perhaps you have hundreds of books or just a bookcase where a few dozen volumes reside. No matter how many or how few books you have you are not one of those lost souls who have no books at all, or perhaps even worse, own only recipe books or biographies of forgotten All Blacks.

The day will come when your library must be culled, perhaps when you move to a smaller house or when you realise that you will never get to reread most of your books.

Let us suppose the government passes a law limiting the number of books any citizen may own to, say, 15 volumes. Under the present government such legislation is more than likely, so it’s good to be prepared. Hopefully, people who have written books will be permitted to keep a copy of each of their efforts without them counting towards the final 15. That gives me a separate personal shelf of books — nothing brilliant but all my own work.

Choosing your First XV books is a cathartic exercise. The clinical term used by psychiatrists is "spilling your guts" but I’ll share my list with you.

The chosen kick off with The Pickwick Papers. Forget about the later bleaker Dickens and enjoy this demolition of lawyers and politicians and the celebration of village cricket and an old-fashioned Christmas. Sharing top billing is Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town in which a master of gentle satire tells of a small Canadian town through the foibles of a cast of characters you wish you’d known. I couldn’t omit Jeeves, but picking a favourite from Wodehouse’s books is not easy. I’ll take Right Ho, Jeeves in which Gussie Fink-Nottle presents the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School with an immortal and disastrous speech. By now, a poseur might have included the Bible or some work by Shakespeare but they don’t make my cut. Geoffrey Chaucer is in the team. His The Canterbury Tales (in the original Middle English if you’re lucky enough to have been to a good university) has all of humanity’s funsters and failures.

More up to date is Anthony Trollope and it’s not easy to pick one of his. Perhaps a Barsetshire novel. The Last Chronicle of Barset will do as it sort of rounds the whole thing off. By now you will be writing me off as a bloke who lives in the past. But my next selection is right up to date, as recent as 1953. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley is a poignant story of Edwardian England and famous for its first sentence, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." As any media type should, I’ll include Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop as a reminder of the type of journalism we don’t need.

It’s usual to include something from your childhood so I’ll slip in a William book. Richmal Crompton wrote of her young rascal with energy and humour and had the courage to use long words, which made a refreshing change from the stuff we had foisted on us at school.

Horace Rumpole is one of my literary heroes, so a collected edition of his cases would do just nicely. I’m a sucker for a good detective story. Old stuff, of course, so The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes will make the cut, as will at least one of the Sergeant Cribb books by Peter Lovesey. Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse will feature, too. I’m a pretty patriotic sort so you may wonder at the lack of any New Zealand books on the shelf. It worried me, too, as there are dozens of great New Zealand writers who’ll miss out simply because I’ve never read them. Pressed to be loyal, I’ll plump for a collection of Dan Davin’s short stories. Better bung in a poet. W.B. Yeats should do the trick.

Some books stay with you simply because of the circumstances of their purchase. On my first visit to Ireland I mentioned to a bookshop assistant my interest in finding out more about the lives my ancestors led in Ireland. "Try this", she said and handed me Twenty Years A-Growing by Maurice O’Sullivan. Set in the Gaelic-speaking islands of the west of Ireland, it’s not exactly the Limerick of my forebears but it’s so well written it earns a spot in the First XV.

The psychiatrist reading this list may say, "This man is a wreck. He should be in a home of some sort." He’s probably right, but at least if I’m ever sent to a home of some sort where space is at a premium, I’ll have my small bookshelf ready to go. Make your own list. It will tell us more about you than even the most carefully crafted psychiatric profile.

— Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.