In almost 30 years of reading, I have read and loved the work of George Orwell, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Zadie Smith, Angela Carter, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, J.K Rowling, Jeremy Clarkson, Ben Elton, Enid Blyton, Daphne du Maurier, Nick Hornby, Leslie Charteris, and William Thackeray. This long list of English authors is hardly comprehensive.
I have devoured the autobiographies of English actors Simon Callow, Charlie Chaplin, Russell Brand, Stephen Fry, and Christopher Lee; read and performed the work of William Shakespeare, and marvelled at the wit, insight, and imagination of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. The only country that comes close to matching England in quantity – in fact, it’s probably something of a tie – is the United States.
But this quantity is packed with quality, and I count many of the afore-mentioned as my favourite writers. It is a pity and a disgrace that my schools and university failed to teach African literature, but it is an honour and a pleasure to continually revel in the works of these masters.
With so many names in my reading repertoire, it wasn’t easy picking just one. I went with one of my favourites: a woman whose work I’ve been reading for decades: Agatha Christie, queen of crime, and the best-selling novelist of all time. Postern of Fate, which I picked up secondhand to read for the English leg of my reading challenge, is one the last novels she wrote.
I’m a real sucker for detective fiction and TV. I grew up watching Murder, She Wrote, so it was only natural that I was attracted to books that contained feisty amateur detectives akin to Jessica Fletcher.
I’ve read at least 10 of Christie’s 75 novels; watched the TV and movie adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express (1974 and 2017 versions), The Murder at the Vicarage, The Third Girl, and The Secret Adversary; read her short stories, as well as The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in history. A few years ago, I watched it on stage, with one of my closest friends cast in the role of Christopher Wren.
My grandfather, who was a pharmacist, loved her work as well. Christie worked at a pharmacy, and this may have drawn him to the writer in the first place. I don’t quite recall when I first stumbled upon Christie’s work, but I remember checking out her books at the library when I about ten years old.
I’ve never been to England, but the nation’s presence in my life is quite obvious because I love English literature and am fluent in the language. Along with Christie’s works, I absolutely adore English humour. Blackadder and Black Books are two of my favourite TV series, and like my list of English authors I could sit here till kingdom come listing the English comedy, and comedians, I love: be it Absolutely Fabulous and The IT Crowd or Jimmy Carr and Eddie Izzard.
A conclusion cannot be reached until I’ve mentioned one of my all-time favourite actors: the magnificent Ian McKellen. And let’s not forget the mastery of Gary Oldman, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Maggie Smith, Julie Andrews, and Julie Christie; and how much I love Winnie-the-Pooh, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the music of Frank Turner and David Bowie, and the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, Danny Boyle, and Edgar Wright.
My conclusion is this: the sun may never set on the British Empire because God doesn’t trust the English in the dark, but to paraphrase the words of that fine English actor Hugh Grant in that delightful English comedy Love Actually written by the wonderful Richard Curtis: it may be a small country, but it’s a great one too, a country of Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and David Beckham’s right foot.