The Last Book You’ll Ever Read

Like most normal people, I like to spend the run-up to the festive season thinking about death. I find it goes particularly well with overeating, tinsel, and so little daylight that you no longer know you have eyebrows.

So it occurred to me recently that when that time comes when book lovers pass away, we could well wonder what it was they were reading before they died. What might become the last book you’ll ever read?

The Last Book You'll Every Read
Insert Famous Last Words Here

Of course, the answer to this question might tell you absolutely nothing at all. But then again, the human race has been preoccupied for centuries about a person’s last words. What they said, and to whom. What it says about their state of mind; what it says about death and dying, and what’s it all really about anyway.

I’m as interested as the next cynic in what someone’s last words were, but I’m never sure what to believe, because I sincerely doubt we ever hear the truth of them.

The Last Word in Last Words

In many cases, we only get to hear about the last interesting thing someone said, rather than the last words they actually uttered. Perhaps we simply hear about the last thing they said to someone in particular, ignoring anything they said after that to anyone else. But whatever we hear, it carries such huge weight that it’s almost always a story worth telling.

Most of us would like to think that our last words would be something lofty, philosophical or important. For example, saying to a loved one: ‘everything will be all right’. Perhaps it would be ‘I love you’, or a shocking deathbed confession, such as ‘I never liked the bathroom tiles’.

All in all we’d like to believe that our last words might be something crucial to the happiness of one’s family, community, or even civilisation. In fiction, it would always be so.

The reality is that most people’s last words are something far more mundane. I reckon the most uttered last words for a very large majority are something along the lines of ‘thank you’ (to the nurse administering the last food, drink or medication). Or something which becomes ironic, such as: ‘I’m fine’, or for 87% Irish people, ‘I’m grand, thanks’.

It’s extremely unlikely our last words will be truly brilliant, such as the ones Spike Milligan pre-ordered for his gravestone – ‘I told you I was ill’.

The Ideal Reader’s Legacy…

I feel like the last books we read before we die are even better than last words. Books are more concrete and witnessable. They’re something which can be readily believed, because people are less likely to embellish the truth about them. Most importantly, they might even tell us something of what was in someone’s head before they left us.

In death as in life, when it comes to books, there are ones which can make us look impressive and intellectual. And then there are also books for which the Kindle was invented, so we wouldn’t have to hide their covers in shame on public transport, let alone have them discovered after we’re gone.

We all have books we quite like to be seen reading, and books we’d rather not admit to. Not too many of us would be happy passing away with a social media star’s lifestyle bible on the bedside table, for instance. Nothing could make life appear shorter and more meaningless than that.

But having War and Peace or Ulysses on the nightstand could create meaning and tragedy and comedy all at once: to have died without finishing some of the most famously unfinishable works in modern memory would be one of the greatest literary fiction metaphors of all time.

The Last Book You'll Ever Read
Let me see… my last words should be… no, wait, let me think….

Or imagine you’re an author, and you hear that a famous person’s last read was your book! It could be a validation of everything you’ve ever done. It could also be a shock, but given that there’s very little left in life that truly surprises us after recent years, you’d also have to consider that a bonus, not to mention a priceless marketing opportunity.

…and the Reality

The most interesting last reads, however, could actually be stranger than fiction.

By far the most ironic, interesting and unbelievable last read I ever encountered was my own Dad’s. He was one of the most prolific readers I knew when he was alive. And when he died, the half-finished book at his bedside was Dead Tomorrow by Peter James.

I know this sounds made up, but it isn’t. I still sometimes look at that book on the shelf now, its spine to this day creased and lined to just under mid-way through, the right hand side of the spine as pristine and smooth as the moment it left the bookshop. And being the deep and insightful philosopher I am, I think to myself: there’s a blog post in that.

  18 comments for “The Last Book You’ll Ever Read

  1. Kathryn Crowley
    December 5, 2021 at 4:48 pm

    ‘Dead Tomorrow’, wow! Unreal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. December 5, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    What a story! You definitely want this one recorded for posterity.

    I should ask my sisters, but I suspect, since Daddy was not well near the end, that he wasn’t reading much at that point.

    Have you read the book?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. December 5, 2021 at 9:10 pm

    Forget about reading before we die, I have nightmares that my books will suddenly become bestsellers because/after I die. Scr*w (am I allowed say that on a blog?) the fame after death thing-I don’t want to become number 1 of any charts I wasn’t even a contender in while alive, and I most certainly don’t want people to try to analyse/ emulate/ mess with my books in the way they do with Jane Austen, and I’m horrified in case they pull out a mucky draft 1 of a novel and try to flog it/rewrite it ;);) Great post as always (I have been away for too long so was thrilled to see this!!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 5, 2021 at 10:00 pm

      That would certainly be a shock plot twist. I suppose it depends on whether you agree with Oscar Wilde’s view on the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about! I hope you gain enough notoriety (for all the right reasons) for this fear to go away long before you do.

      And thanks too for your kind words, I too have been away far too long and it’s great to be back 😆

      Liked by 1 person

  4. December 6, 2021 at 5:09 am

    “There’s a blog post in that.”

    I don’t know why but I think the same about everything, especially bad experiences, lol. This was a great post by the way. Thanks for sharing, Tara!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. December 6, 2021 at 9:07 am

    I’d be terrified if it was one of my books. What if reading it killed them with boredom/laugher/irritation at the crap plot? What if some rapacious cousin decided to have their estate sue me post morten? And how on earth do they post a review if they go and snuff it before ‘the end’? Even a ‘it’s so good it’s killing me’ would be nice (three stars – I’m not greedy).
    PS if you need eyebrows I know a man who knows a man…

    Liked by 2 people

    • December 6, 2021 at 2:29 pm

      But how would they PROVE it Geoff? I mean, at that point you could be so drunk on the power of being able to kill people with a turn of phrase, that you might have moved straight into politics, banned all books except your own, and single-handedly turned around the growing facial hair market.

      I’m afraid I can’t help you with the review problem. That’s a real humdinger, to be honest.

      Like

      • December 6, 2021 at 4:47 pm

        Death can be cruel, dashing the hopes of that crucial review. Hope all is well in Taraworld! Keeping away from the omigod variant?

        Liked by 1 person

        • December 6, 2021 at 10:19 pm

          So far, yes. But let’s face it, there are 6-ish days left in this week alone, so I don’t like my odds. And you?

          Liked by 1 person

          • December 9, 2021 at 12:44 am

            Yes, pretty good. We’ve dodged the Covid bullet thus far and my children remain both married and employed so I’m taking those positives out of essentially the dullest year since we bought a house needing to be restored and I found out that my enthusiasm for DIY was entirely theoretical.

            Like

  6. December 6, 2021 at 10:36 am

    I once read a book called Their Last Suppers by Andrew Caldwell, a look at the final meals of a whole bunch of historical figures complete with recipes, an explanation of the cooking technique used to prepare them, and in many cases, the more modern way to replicate them. I guess the idea was that a reader might wish to throw a dinner party with a “Death of Bob Marley” theme. Actually, that is a weirdly appealing idea, but it does place a kind of pressure on a person I think. I’d hate for my last meal to have been a pop tart from a vending machine or something. I’ve watched enough tv crime dramas to know the forensic investigator is going to uncover that embarrassing fact pretty quickly. But I am wondering if I need to recruit a friend to be ready with a good, non-ebarrassing book to swap with whatever happens to be on my nightstand when I die.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 6, 2021 at 2:34 pm

      Hmmm. The last meal could be an issue. Especially if the crime drama is based on extreme cold cases and you’re dug up archaeologically a couple of thousand years from now, there’s going to be no disguising your last meal. Although think about what your pop tart could mean to future Us’s understanding of our primitive culture! Maybe get buried with your preferred book and the packet listing of ingredients to be sure they have the whole picture (and some vital clues)?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. December 14, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    Betty Smith, who wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, said a US prisoner about to be executed wrote to her saying her book was the last thing he would ever read. She never said how that affected her. But, what about the last thing a person writes and that makes sense and is legible? Take care with memories of your dad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 14, 2021 at 10:46 pm

      Exactly, Stanley… in a way I think the last book a person reads is a less painful prospect for those of us left behind when compared to the last thing someone writes. As for Betty Smith, that really makes me wonder what she thought about the death penalty.

      Like

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