Welcome once again, dear reader, to the Littlest Library, where guests get to choose the ONE book they’d like to save and add to the collection. This can be a precious physical copy of a book you own or a book that means something to you personally.
The ONE book rules
- You can choose ONE book
- see rule #1
It can be any book you like, but in the words of the Highlander, there can be only ONE.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Stewart Hotson to talk about their ONE book.
The library I’d take a single book from to preserve is my own – something like 3,000 books all in (not including cookbooks, textbooks and design books for the architect in my life). It’s not quite every book I’ve ever read, after all the TBR pile is pretty generous and, around my late teens I had to dispose of several hundred that I now wish had never ended up leaving my life.
What it does contain is a collection of the books that have made me. The non-fiction includes my enduring love of philosophy, economics, physics and theology plus the odd and esoteric.
In addition, the research I undertake for my own writing can be found here – whether it’s books about cryptocurrency, infosec, the history of Algeria, India, Japan, a natural history of fungi or any other number of disconnected subjects.
I’m a former physicist turned banker by day but a writer whenever I get a moment and this odd selection of influences can be found all across my library.
There was a battle royale over which book I would save. In the end it came down to the winner and Mary Douglas’, Purity and Danger which literally changed my life. However, as influential as that book was on the way I saw the world, the book that won was The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov.
Bulgakov’s book is my favourite novel of all time. I’ve read a reasonable amount of Russian literature translated into English but this is the one that sits at the top of the pile for me. To understand its importance for me I need to talk about how I encountered it and then its legacy.
The novel arrived in my hands during a period in which I was looking for long novels that addressed the real world but had elements to them that were fantastical. Furthermore, Bulgakov was a famous(ly sly) dissident in the USSR. I found a translation in Waterstones and bought it. Simple as that.
I was expecting something interesting but then I read the foreword in which I learned that Bulgakov wrote the entire novel then burned the only copy upon discovering the Russian secret police were going to raid his home.
After they were gone he wrote the novel out a second time. At just over 110,000 words that is no mean feat. When I learned this I realised I had to read it if only to see what kind of story a man who was committed enough to burn his only copy before re-writing it from scratch would create.
I confess that I found the first hundred pages tough going. I don’t know if it was the translation or the story but, honestly, I didn’t really know what was happening at all. Then, about the hundred page mark, something clicked and I fell into the story in the best way possible.
What is the story? It’s about a day in which satan arrives in Moscow and has a bacchanal in a society that literally exclaims he doesn’t exist. The moment I understood that the novel was about how two competing systems of thought clashed, how stories could never be silenced and how meaning and story are inextricably linked was a moment in which my entire view of the world changed.
The structure is elegant but complex, sophisticated and knowing, sitting beside itself at times with a nod to the reader that it’s quite aware that it’s talking about how it’s built and how the characters within struggle with the bounds they know someone else has put upon them.
It is a passionate cry for the freedom to think, to dissent, to try for a better world. It is a clear eyed view into what it means for us to believe, about how the stories we tell reveal what it is we hold dear and what it is that fills us with terror.
It is also a novel about political control, about oppression and how to survive it.
Lastly it is two very solid fingers up at those who would silence minorities fighting for justice, for their voices to be heard. Bulgakov was very aware of the violence inherent in oppression but he also firmly believed there was no way tyrants could hold on forever no matter how they tried to tell reality it was something other than what it was.
I’ve loved this novel for a long time and it feels as relevant today as it did the moment I first encountered it.
It’s not an easy read but it is profound.
Lastly, I remember being on a journey with a Polish friend of mine who revealed that when she was growing up the novel was a set text for the Polish equivalent of A-levels and she couldn’t understand why I was so in awe of it. We discussed how she loved regency novels (which I hate) and that perhaps for both of us, school had destroyed something precious in trying to draw our attention to its worth.
Anyway. This is the novel I would save and I hope you get a chance to read it one day and find just a fraction of what I did on that first read through.
Thanks Stewart! Definitely one I’ll be adding to my own library, it sounds amazing.
You can find Stewart around the internet at https://www.facebook.com/shotston, on Instagram @thestewhotston or at stewarthotston.com. He also writes reviews for Scifi Bulletin and Grimdark Mag, and has six novels published. The last two are The Entropy of Loss, published by NewCon Press and Daybreak Legacy, published by Aconyte.
Would you like to take part in the Littlest Library ONE book challenge?
Drop me an email: email@example.com with a photo of your book, and some words to explain why it’s your ONE book.
Until next time…