Collected Stories by Saul Bellow. Complete Prose by Woody Allen. And, since not so long ago, Famous Last Words. Three books that never leave my bedside, my desk, the field of my vision.
The latter is special. No one can resist some slight flirtation with death. It’s a book I stole from a British pub some time ago and it’s a book I can open at any point and on any page and fish out a couple of lines of perverse inspiration. It’s a constantly reprinted book that has a very old-fashioned feel about it. It’s divided into sections like “Gallows Humour”, “The Show Must Go On”, “The End Is Nigh”, etc.
And while you do realise this is clearly a sham in 95% of cases (at the very least), you tend to purr with delight at, say, the defiance of Allen Ginsberg and the bitter poetry of Lord George Byron. So recognizable, so grotesque, yet so in character.
Still, my absolute favourite famous last words were spoken by Jimmy Hoffa, an American trade union leader, who died (presumably) in 1975. These words have to be true as they seem the most naturally tragic of all:
‘Has Tony Giacolone called?’