The lovely people at Libraries NI have been running a campaign asking people to nominate their choice for a book to make up The Perfect Library, and they asked me a couple of weeks ago if I would make a selection.
How do you narrow something like that down to one book? And how do you take into account the vagaries of mood – Monday’s choice would be Harper Lee, Tuesday’s might be Charles Bukowski... And the thing is, you KNOW someone else will have suggested Harper Lee already - she'll be in there within the first half a dozen selections, along with Catcher in the Rye and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and all the other regular residents of the Top Ten lists.
Anyway, from the frame of mind I was in when I made the choice, here’s my entry for their campaign:
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
'Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams...'
I could have selected dozens of titles for this - ask me tomorrow and I'll probably have a different one in mind. However, right here, right now, my choice is Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. I first read it when I was at Coleraine Inst and it had a profound effect on me. At that time I didn't know you could DO that with words. It was ravishing and heartbreaking and dreamlike. If words were edible, this book would be a never-ending box of expensive chocolates. Of course, off I went and wrote all kinds of imitations of it - that's what dreamy 14-year-olds are supposed to do. It did show me what language was capable of - and there's a direct link from the joy of reading this to the joy of putting words together in the songwriting process. I still read Under Milk Wood every three or four years, and I often listen to the delicious BBC recording with Richard Burton as the narrator. I offer it as a choice for the Perfect Library in the hope that some other head-in-the-clouds 14-year-old will find it and be smitten.
( I think the Perfect Library entries are now closed, but if you'd like to suggest an entry, click HERE to be taken to the submission page. )