Which book would you save?

Which book would you save from a burning building?

Hannah: Which book would I save from a burning building? Easy, The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler, and no, that isn’t just me trying to be clever. This is a book I eagerly anticipated a year in advance of it even being written, let alone translated, so when I finally had it in my hands, I savoured every page. I started it on a night bus in Thailand, and finished it the next day on a cockroach infested train – having read for a solid 8 hours. It was only the second that I lifted my head and a cockroach scuttled over my toe, that I realised how absorbed I’d been. My fingers ached from gripping the pages, my neck creaked from the tension – and all I wanted to do was read it again.

Sarah: Right now, the book I would save if HC Towers suddenly caught fire is the manuscript copy of Stuart MacBride’s latest novel (due for publication in January 2013)which is currently sitting on my desk. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s (unsurprisingly) a fantastically page-turning read so far. It’s a sequel to Birthdays for the Dead, and it’s great to catch up with those brilliant characters again and find out what’s become of them since the shocking denouement to the previous novel. Of course I could ask Stuart to resend the file even if my computer also perished in the flames, but the ms copy has my notes scribbled all over it, and I might never get those thoughts back if they went up in smoke!

Helen: So many books to choose from and only one to save, eh? Well if push came to shove, the book that I’d save would have to be Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. An incredible book if ever there was one, with all the excitement you’d expect from the best of thrillers. Except this isn’t one. This is real life. If you haven’t read it already, you must, but let me whet your appetite in the meantime.

Gregory David Roberts, former armed robber and heroin addict escaped from a high security Australian prison in broad daylight. Pretty good so far. From there, he travelled to India, living in the Bombay slums where he set up a free health clinic. Not being content to stop there, he joined the Indian mafia, worked as a money launderer and street soldier, did a stint in an Indian jail, acted in Bollywood, fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and in between all that, found time to fall in love.

The book is huge (to say this guy has done a lot is something of an understatement), and at almost 1000 pages long, it’s incredible to think that he wrote it from scratch three times after prison guards destroyed the manuscript. That, if nothing else, would make me flee a burning building with this book in hand – Shantaram is a book that deserves to be saved.

Katie: About three years ago, I moved house five times in 18 months. I’m afraid by the final move, I don’t think any of my fiction survived the cut. So, this is controversial but I don’t think I would save any of the books I’ve accumulated since then if my building was burning down. My rationale at the time was mostly that books are heavy and if there was something I particularly loved, I would just buy it again. There are only a couple of books I have read multiple times, I’ve never bought first edition hardbacks (you might sense a theme here: they’re too heavy to carry about!), I don’t own any special editions, and although I have a LONG list of books I absolutely love (Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez are a few that I love or are meaningful to me), I don’t feel the need to have them physically around me anymore. I LOVE reading. But does not keeping books make me a bad book lover?

Kate: Mine is a 1967 edition of Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers.

No editor’s desk should be without a copy of Hart’s Rules – it’s our style bible. I have the latest edition too, but this one is particularly special because it was given to me by someone who inspired me to pursue a career in publishing. Ray Richards is one of the most influential and successful figures in the history of NZ publishing. I met him by chance through a family friend, at a point in my life where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. He talked frankly about the difficulties of making a career in the industry, and gave me invaluable advice. A few days later I received a package in the post with a selection of books from his personal library about publishing, writing and editing – each with a note inside. Hart’s Rules, he said, is essential. I have kept it with me since (all the way to London), and would be distraught to see it go up in flames, so this is the book I would save from the burning HC towers!

Which book would you save?

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