The book that ...
The book I am currently reading I’m never only reading one book. I’ve just started Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy , as part of my read-all-of-Ali-Smith campaign, but I’m also enjoying David Kynaston’s excellent 1950s social history Family Britain , for research reasons, and taking regular bedtime sips from Walter Scott’s astonishing Old Mortality, about a doomed fundamentalist uprising in 17th-century Scotland. Only sips, because I have to read the dialogue to myself in my pathetic imitation of a Border-Scots accent, to follow what’s going on. The books that changed my life
Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s melancholy polar epic The Worst Journey in the World turned me into a writer, by giving me a book-sized question to answer. James Buchan’s essay about money, Frozen Desire, showed me what a beautiful and cursive line you could trace, even in non-fiction that had a lot to digest and report. From very different directions, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower taught me that there might be a kind of novel I could write. The book I wish I'd written
Either Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or the great New Zealand YA writer Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters. They aren’t books that do the biggest things, but what they do, they do almost perfectly. The book that had the greatest influence on my writing Can I at least have one a decade? 0-10: the Narnia books. 11-20: Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. 21-30: Alasdair Gray’s 1982, Janine. 31-40: AS Byatt’s The Virgin in the Garden. 41-50: Fitzgerald/Robinson, as above. 51+: ask me at the end of the decade. The book I think is most underrated Two SF masterpieces: Gywneth Jones’s Life, a riff on academic biology and female experience; and Adam Roberts’s The Thing Itself, the only pulp-horrorKantian theology mashup in the world. The last book that made me cry/laugh
Cry: Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead series. Laugh: Catherine Fox’s Lindchester sequence. The book I couldn't finish
Proust, Proust, bloody Proust. I made a new attempt to climb Mount Marcel last year, and got defeated all over again. It’s the endless descriptive pointillism, diffuse rather than precise, atmospheric rather than vivid. I’m too committed to the illusion that you can say things once, richly, and stop. Henry James eludes me for the same reason. The book I'm most ashamed not to have read Cough Shakespeare’s Sonnets cough. The book I most often give as a gift
Recently, Jo Baker’s Longbourn and Megan Whalen Turner’s YA series The Queen’s Thief. The book I'd most like to be remembered for Remember me, please for the unwritten book in which I do something transcendently amazing. And not for the one after that, in which I fall flat on my face.