Ann Powers, who's writing a Kate Bush book for our series, had a good one of these on her blog last week, so here's my own version.
A book that changed my life
Hmm, nothing so far. A book that may have changed my way of thinking about books themselves would be Nicholas Nickleby, or David Copperfield, or Our Mutual Friend or Little Dorrit – I went through a serious Dickens phase when I was 14 or 15, and almost nothing since (see three questions down) has ever quite matched his blend of humour, anger, pure storytelling, and utter mawkishness. I’m a sucker for that – I can barely read a single sentence of Dickens without breaking into a smile. Feels like home.
A book I’ve read more than once
Oh What a Paradise It Seems! by John Cheever. Readable in one sitting, if you have a rainy, miserable Sunday to spare. This is the book of a very old, very wise, very cheeky man – endlessly playful and irritable and loveable. I’ve no idea what Cheever was like as human being, but this book makes me want to hang out with him, big time.
A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island
Three books: The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. In fact, I would deliberately consider being stuck on a desert island, just to experience reading this trilogy like that – stranded and alone, imagining fierce armoured polar bears floating towards me across the ocean.
A book that made me laugh
It seems a little unfair to put this book into this category, as it does so much more than make me laugh, but: What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe. I read this every two years or so, and it only gets better. Smart, sharp, clever, angry, bitter, adorable, and containing my favourite joke ever: pretty much the perfect novel. This is beyond childish, but if you don’t love this book, then we should not be friends. (See also: The House of Sleep, by Jonathan Coe. Different, but just as great.)
A book that made me cry
The Furies by Janet Hobhouse. The saddest, bravest, most mesmerizing book I’ve ever read. A terribly flawed novel, for obvious reasons, but guaranteed to reduce me to a quivering wreck every single time.
A book that I wish had been written
A big, towering, rallying cry of a non-fiction book that brutally lays out how our civilization is on a downward spiral of shallowness and meaninglessness, and shows how our obsessions with sex, money, politics, novelty and religion will reduce us all to gibbering wrecks. A book that will start a grass-roots movement, a revolution. Kinda like Atlas Shrugged, but nicer. And non-fiction.
A book I wish had never been written
The book my Dad wrote about my Mum, to help him get over her early death from cancer. Still too sad to read again, after all these years. (Self-published, only a few copies.)
A book I’ve been meaning to read
Maybe a comic book or graphic novel? I know I’m missing out on a whole culture here, but I’ll probably just carry on reading regular books instead.
I’m currently reading
Stuart: A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters. Not quite as great as most people seem to think, but still a very good, eye-opening and funny biography of a disturbed, violent homeless man in Cambridge, England, told in reverse. Includes this wonderful paragraph, on pp.213-4: "In biography, most of the time, the real person is a nuisance. One wants them out of the way. If only they’d stop muddying the waters with inconsistencies, denials, forgetfulness and different interpretations of your language, you could extract their essence and be off down the publisher’s. The heart of it is probably this: the subject fears that if you get what they are down on the page then you have debased them, so they flap about like aboriginals claiming photographs steal their soul. What, me? That’s all there is to me? Fuck off! Biff! Take that!"