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The other day, forced to stay in bed by a raging cold but feeling just well enough to read something light and undemanding, I took down a book called Rookery Nook by Ben Travers.

The other day, forced to stay in bed by a raging cold but feeling just well enough to read something light and undemanding, I took down a book called Rookery Nook by Ben Travers.

All I knew about Travers was that he wrote immensely successful farces in the 1920s and 1930s, and that shortly before he died in 1980 at the age of 90 he had a new play produced called The Bed Before Yesterday. But what his stuff was like I had no idea. That's why I must have bought this copy of Rookery Nook (fourth edition, 1925, £12 second-hand).

Well, what a strange novel. Travers territory is not so very far removed from PG Wodehouse country (lots of bossy women, likeable young chumps and terrible misunderstandings, but no money troubles), but it manages to be subtly different. For one thing, in the same way that many modern novels are written with half a mind on the ensuing TV or film script, so Rookery Nook seems to have been written for transformation into a three-act farce. When we get to the seaside house in Somerset that is going to be the scene of the action, Travers describes in minute detail where every room is and what it contains, and you suddenly realise that he is giving us stage directions, or at least the layout of the farcical comings and goings. And sure enough, things get very farcical; I'm not even going to hint at their nature, except to say that I quite enjoyed it but am not rushing out to buy another of Mr Travers's novels.

What's odd is that I can't compare notes with anyone on him. Normally when you read a new book, you're bound to bump into another reader of Captain Corelli or Cold Mountain or Toast or Angela's Ashes, and you sharpen your reactions by comparing them with theirs. I guess that is why people join book clubs: they have reached an age when it is a pleasure to swap ideas. (How very different from the A-level years. Our A-level English class at school was a book club in all but name; we had all read the same books and all had to answer the same questions on them. The only difference was that we never discussed them. I can't remember anyone in my class ever coming up to me and saying: "So, Kington, how do you rate Dr Johnson on the vanity of human wishes?" And I would have been a bit worried if he had.)

The worst thing about having read a Travers book is that I have now lost a possible point if I ever get involved in a game of Humiliation. This, I am told, is played by writers when they get together, get drunk and get competitive, and takes the form of claiming not to have read certain works that everyone is meant to have read. You'd get one measly point for not having read Travers; five for not having read Middlemarch, perhaps; 10 for Vanity Fair, and so on.

Actually, I'm not sure if points are even involved, but I do remember hearing a writer on the radio (Jim Crace, I think) saying that when he played the game, he always produced a gasp and a winning score by saying casually: "Actually, I've never read anything by ANY of the Brontës..."

What occurs to me is that if the BBC is looking for a follow-up to The Big Read, why doesn't it mount a nationwide search for the Big Unread? The grand winner would be the book that is most talked about by the British and also the most unread. I think you know the kind of book I'm talking about: Don Quixote, Ulysses, Crime and Punishment, Moby Dick, anything at all by Marcel Proust or Martin Amis...

The BBC is very good at doing this sort of thing. A year or two back, Radio 2 organised a listeners' poll to find the most respected song of the last 50 years. The winner was John Lennon's "Imagine". Later, they asked all the music critics and journos they could get hold of to vote for what they thought was the worst and most overrated song of the last 50 years. And, gratifyingly, "Imagine" won again.

So am I being too sentimental in thinking that, if they ever do organise the Big Unread, The Lord of The Rings has a very good chance of winning?

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