Aladdin by Arthur Ransome

One thing that makes reading so enormously appealing is the escape factor. Even if you’re reading non-fiction, you might be reading about a race against time to understand and cure an epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Or daily life for fishery workers in a remote Northern European community. Or the unraveling and exposure of a hot political scandal at the White House. In short, reading need not bear any actual resemblance to reality at all – at least not our own. It gives us glimpses into the unusual, the unlikely, and often the impossible.

So why not take it a step further and dip our toes into the truly indulgent? If you could instantly send yourself into the plot of any novel, where would you find yourself? Scurvy-riddled on the high seas in the pages of Treasure Island? Living  on the Island of Dr. Moreau among the beast-men? Maple-sugaring in the snow with Laura Ingalls Wilder? In the midst of a steamy hookah-fueled Parisian orgy with Anais Nin? Attending the hatching of a clutch of dragon eggs on Pern? Some books are so richly detailed, and the authors so skilled at building scenarios and worlds that we automatically envision them, create them in our minds, even wish for them.

So what would my literary dream wish list be? Well for starters, I have never in my life wanted to be someone’s best friend as badly as I longed for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley. But then, I also had a fierce literary crush on Gilbert Blythe, so Anne’s and my kindred spirit bonding may not have been successful in the long-term.

I would give my left arm (okay, my smallest toe) to attend a Mark Twain reading, or even sit on the porch with him and talk long into the hot Missouri evening over mint juleps. The more I read and learn about Twain, the more disappointed I am that I will never meet him. His humour, his stories, his politics and his way with words would surely make for a lot of laughter.

Oh, how beautiful the world of comics would be if Bill Watterson and Gary Larson had kept going just another year or three. Meanwhile Jim Davis could have retired Garfield when the strip was still funny, a couple of decades ago, letting the orange meatball remain in our hearts with a fond thought, rather than eliciting boos and groans long after it should have ended. That dead horse was black and blue.

And imagine if – remember, this is my anything-goes fantasy wish list here – I could go back in time to change the face of literary history forever. If I could befriend J.K. Rowling while she’s sitting in that Edinburgh cafe, maybe I could offer helpful suggestions in exchange for 1% of her future profits (you know, if anyone cares about a boy wizard). I could likewise befriend Anita Shreve and convince her that writing is for schmucks, and she has the makings of a great dentist, thereby saving my future self an enormously tedious few hours with The Pilot’s Wife.

In terms of fictional characters, I would love a therapy session (which I clearly need, given that when faced with the opportunity to time-travel, I mostly wish to do evil for personal gain) with Berger, the psychiatrist from Judith Guest’s masterpiece of family and coping Ordinary People.

I would love to be a teacher in Up the Down Staircase, exchanging notes with Sylvia Barrett about our weirder, more charming, and more troubled students, and chatting in the staff room. I would love to buy my partner this £7775 first edition set of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. I would love to use that time machine once more to meet young Oprah Winfrey and tell her that one day, when she has the idea to start a book club, it’s a great idea – but maybe she could consider an occasional cheerful book without the prerequisite murder, incest and crushing poverty?

Oh, I could go on all day. ‘Tis the season for wishes coming true and all that, so you never know. Consider this column my letter to Santa.


Fictional Men I Would Date:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables
Lucy Maud Montgomery

Gilbert Blythe. My first crush on a character in a book. He could call me Carrots any day.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Princess Bride
Wiliam Goldman

Westley, Farm Boy, the Dread Pirate Roberts - whatever you call him, he's dreamy.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride & Prejudice
Jane Austen

Mr. Darcy, of course. Nothing is more attractive than a sarcastic man who secretly loves you.
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Franny and Zooey
J.D. Salinger

Zooey Glass would have to be a temporary fling - too cynical to last - but interesting.
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing
William Shakespeare

Benedick's knack for barbs, wit and words always made me swoon.

Authors I Wish I Could See Read:

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
Mark Twain

As a child, the first piece of writing I remember truly frightening me was when Tom and Becky are lost in the cave and their last candle goes out. Hearing that read by Twain himself would be fantastic.

Ariel: Poems by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

Many people remember Sylvia Plath best for her novel, The Bell Jar, but I'd give anything to hear her read her poetry - which is achingly gorgeous andmonstrous - in her own rhythm and voice.
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut

Given the tongue-in-cheek humor and biting satire of his writing, I can only imagine that going to see Kurt Vonnegut read must have involved a lot of laughing until your sides hurt.

Pulp by Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski

Sure he was a sexist, arguably misogynistic drunk. But what a way with words. From slurring to swearing to the possible hurling of a radio, a Bukowski reading would certainly never be dull.

Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga  by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson

If you've read any of Thompson's work, you'll be familir with the frenetic, relentless pacing. One could hope the reading would dissolve into paranoid ranting. High entertainment value.


Fictional Places I Wish I Could Visit:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Hogsmeade, from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling - I'd love to try a bottle of butterbeer.
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
The planet Pern, from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll's fantastical and strange Wonderland. For tea, of course.
The Magic of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Oz, as created by L. Frank Baum. I'd love to walk down the Yellow Brick Road.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The dark, shady and menacing alleys of Neil Gaiman's London Below.

Real Literary Places I Wish to Visit:

The Library of Alexandria by Kelly Trumble
The Ancient Royal Library of Alexandria. Before its destruction. So much papyrus!
Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer
Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian Books has books piled in the aisles and a writer's room.
Die schönsten Buchhandlungen Europas (the Most Beautiful Bookstores in Europe) by Rainer Moritz
The Selecyz Bookstore in Maastricht, Holland, is in an old Dominican church - with the coffee shop at its altar.
The Bodleian Library: and its Treasures 1320-1700 by David Rogers
The Bodleian Library in Oxford. Imagine how many lovely books a dedicated organization can amass in 400+ years.

The Akishima Library in Japan is a 25-seat, 10,000-book library housed in a former Shinkansen bullet train.

Books I Wish I Could Afford:

The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches
Roald Dahl

From the child-hunting witches, to the world's best grandmother, The Witches is my favourite of Dahl's books. This inscribed copy would make a lovely addition to my collection.
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
War of the Worlds
H.G. Wells

Take an already fantastic classic science-fiction book, then have it gorgeously illustrated throughout by the amazing Edward Gorey.
The Story of Emma, Lady Hamilton by Julia Frankau
The Story of Emma, Lady Hamilton
Julia Frankau

The binding on this gorgeous 1911 edition is done in the Cosway style, with 13 inlaid vignette portraits on morocco leather and gilt decoration.
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
Beatrix Potter

My favourite of Beatrix Potter's fun and furry children's tales, this copy is bound in green moire silk with gilt lettering and decoration.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

This edition of Bradbury's legendary dystopian tale of censorship and societal disconnect is bound in a form of fire-resistant asbestos.

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