BOOKS / Summer reading: 21 books for 21 years

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The Independent Culture
Win a Commodore 286 Notebook laptop computer, printer and software (worth over pounds 1,200), or one of three pounds 500 runner-up prizes, in our competition to celebrate 21 years of publishing by Picador. Can you identify the books from which the passages below are taken? All 21 are from the opening chapters; some are cult books, some classics; most are novels, a few works of non-fiction; some are published by Picador, others not. The dates given are when the books were first published in Britain


They had set out when the road was not yet dusty, and the steppe was cool and wet with dew. They travelled through the hours when the steppe took wing and rang with bird calls, and the hours when there were only low whistles, chirrups, rustlings in the grass.


In the winter of 1916-17, in Vienna and other cities, a 'new' illness suddenly appeared, and rapidly spread, over the next three years, to become worldwide in its distribution. Its manifestations were so varied that no two patients ever presented exactly the same picture . . . It seemed, at first, that a thousand new diseases had suddenly broken loose, and it was only through the profound clinical acumen of Constantin von Economo (that) the identity of this protean disease was established.


We navigate mostly by dead reckoning, and deduction from what clues we find. I keep a compass in one pocket for overcast days when the sun doesn't show directions and have the map mounted in a special carrier on top of the gas tank where I can keep track of miles from the last junction and know what to look for. With those tools and a lack of pressure to 'get somewhere' it works out fine and we just about have America all to ourselves.


Now it is the autumn again; the people are all coming back. The recess of summer is over, when holidays are taken, newspapers shrink, history itself seems momentarily to falter and stop. But the papers are thickening and filling again; things seem to be happening; back from Corfu and Sete, Positano and Leningrad, the people are parking their cars and campers in their drives, and opening their diaries, and calling up other people . . .


If we were told that a man had lived a long and prosperous life in the world of Chicago gangsters, we would be entitled to make some guesses as to the sort of man he was. We might expect that he would have qualities such as toughness, a quick trigger finger, and the ability to attract loyal friends. These would not be infallible deductions, but you can make some inferences about a man's character if you know something about the conditions in which he has survived and prospered.


In my grandmother's dining room there was a glass-fronted cabinet and in the cabinet a piece of skin. It was a small piece only, but thick and leathery, with strands of coarse, reddish hair. It was stuck to a card with a rusty pin. On the card was some writing in faded black ink, but I was too young then to read.

'What's that?'

'A piece of brontosaurus.'


I am wifeless, childless, brotherless, sisterless. I am my own well-known self, made glittering and brittle by fame. I determined long ago that I would retire from the theatre when I had passed sixty. ('You will never retire,' Wilfred told me. 'You will be unable to.' He was wrong.)


In the daylight - though the colours could be very pale and ghostly, with the heat mist at times suggesting a colder climate - you could imagine

the town being rebuilt and spreading. You could imagine the forests being uprooted, the roads being laid across creeks and swamps. You could imagine the land being made part of the present.


But what a noisy world this wooden one is] The south-west wind that keeps us at anchor booms and whistles in the rigging and thunders over her - over our (for I am determined to use this long voyage in becoming wholly master of the sea affair) - over our furled canvas. Flurries of rain beat a retreat of kettledrums over every inch of her. If that were not enough, there comes from forward and on this very deck the baaing of sheep, lowing of cattle, shouts of men and yes, the shrieks of women]


My grandfather's nose: nostrils flaring, curvaceous as dancers. Between them swells the nose's triumphal arch, first up and out, then down and under, sweeping in to his upper lip with a superb and at present red-tipped flick. An easy nose to hit a tussock with. I wish to place on record my gratitude to this mighty organ - if not for it, who would ever have believed me to be truly my mother's son, my grandfather's grandson? - this colossal apparatus which was to be my birthright, too.


He loosely sat there in wrinkled woollen trousers and sports jacket, the image of the inappropriate American - in all circumstances inappropriate, incapable of learning the lessons of the 20th century; spared or scorned, by the forces of history or fate or whatever a European might want to call

them. (He) was perfectly aware of this . . . The electric fixture was hung very high, remote. Here, as everywhere in Bucharest, the light was inadequate. They were short on energy in Rumania - something about subnormal rainfall and low water in the dams. That's right, blame nature.


. . . since my mother's death, which was six months before we lay by the eel traps under the stars, my father's yen for the dark, his nocturnal restlessness, had grown more besetting. As if he were constantly brooding on some story yet to be told. So I would meet him sometimes, inspecting his vegetable patch by the moonlight, or talking to his roosting chickens, or pacing up and down by the lock gates or the sluice, his movements marked by the wandering ember of his cigarette.


My cabbie was fortyish, lean, balding . Such hair as remained scurried long and damp down his neck and shoulders. To the passenger, that's all city cabbies are - mad necks, mad rugs. This mad neck was explosively pocked and mottled, with a flicker of adolescent virulence in crimson underhang of the ears. He lounged there in his corner, the long hands limp on the wheel.

'Only need about a hundred guys, a hundred guys like me' he said, throwing his voice back, 'take out all the niggers and PRs in this fuckin' town.'


As for this term 'uncle', it is appropriate here to warn the reader immediately that it must be understood in a very broad sense. It is the custom among us to call any old relation uncle, even if he is a distant relation, and since all or almost all of the old persons in the community are in the long run relations, the result is that the number of uncles is very large.


Most men wear their belts low here, there being so many outstanding bellies, some of them big enough to have names of their own and be formally introduced. Those men don't suck them in or hide them in loose shirts; they let them hang free, they pat them, they stroke them as they stand around and talk. How could a man be so vain as to ignore this old friend who's been with him at the great moments of his life?


'Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby. My husband's spirit was to come back in here? or yours? Don't talk to me. You lucky. You got three left. Three pulling at your skirts and just one raising hell from the other side. Be thankful, why don't you? I had eight. Every one of them gone away from me.'


At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: 'What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.' The scientist gave a superior smile before replying: 'What is the tortoise standing on?' 'You're very clever, young man, very clever,' said the old lady. 'But it's turtles all the way down]'


I put this next suggestion to you tentatively; I feel I have to voice it, though. At times we suspected a kind of system behind the killing that went on. Certainly there was more extermination than was strictly necessary for nutritional purposes - far more. And at the same time some of the species that were killed had very little eating on them.


The terminal when it shows up at last is a long low white building like a bigger version of the sunstruck clinics - dental, chiropractic, arthritic, cardiac, legal, legal-medical - that line the boulevards of this state dedicated to the old. You park at a lot only a few steps away from the door of sliding brown glass: the whole state babies you. Inside, upstairs, where the planes are met, the spaces are long and low and lined in tasteful felt gray like that cocky stewardesss's cap and filled with the kind of music you become aware of only when the elevator stops or when the dentists stops drilling.


Bugger the robin] What would have become of us, if Grandma hadn't left us this house? 49 Bard Road, Brixton, London, South West Two. Bless this house. If it wasn't for this house, Nora and I would be on the streets by now, hauling our worldlies up and down in plastic bags, sucking on the bottle for comfort like babes unweaned . . .


They found my body and made me a boat of sticks and dragged me across the desert. We were in the Sand Sea, now and then crossing dry riverbeds. Nomads, you see. Bedouin. I flew down and the sand itself caught fire. They saw me stand up naked out of it. The leather helmet on my head in flames. They strapped me onto a cradle, a carcass boat, and feet thudded along as they ran with me.