Thursday, August 03, 2006

interesting book meme

No-one ever seems to send me memes, but I've seen this on a few other blogs recently so I thought I'd pinch it and start my own breakout movement.

1. One book that changed my life: Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha, although that's a bit of a misnomer, as it isn't a book I actually finished. Nevertheless, it represents the point when books did change my life, so I think it's a good choice. I was a keen reader as a kid but - maybe my parents will correct me - I don't remember reading much apart from school books between the age of about 12 and 15 or so; I was so obsessively into music and TV comedy that I think my interest waned, or rather I lost the habit of reading daily. Anyway, when I was about 14 or 15 I remember my mother telling me that, if I wanted to do English at university, I should show more interest in reading, and she bought me Paddy Clark Ha Ha, which was on the booker shortlist at the time. I didn't take to it and didn't finish it, but I remember that point as the last time in my life when I wasn't obsessing over books, and things changed very soon afterwards. Indeed, since then I'm pretty sure I've never gone more than three or four days without having a book on the go.

2. One book that I have read more than once: Given that I kind of cheated for my answer above, I'll flag John Steinbeck's Cannery Row as not only the book I have re-read most times, but also the book which really did change my life. I must have read it seven or eight times and the sheer pleasure of it never abates. It was the first time I felt that I was totally transported to another world by a book, and no other book has given me such steady and marvellous enjoyment.

3. One book I would want on a deserted island: It's a terrible cliche, but Middlemarch is the best, biggest, most involving novel I've ever read. It's the most complete reading experience I've come across, so if I only had one book, this would be it.

4. One book that made me laugh: The Jeeves and Wooster books by PG Wodehouse are a constant fall-back for when I'm feeling burned out, low, or just in need of a laugh. They're all wonderful. The funniest book I've ever read is, of course, Catch 22, but everyone says that. Oh, let's go for all of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books. Yes, I know I'm not very good at disciplining myself for these 'one book' questions.

5. One book that made me cry: There have been several occasions when a book has made me cry, but generally because something within it resonates with something happening in my life, or I'm just feeling tired and emotional. I'm not sure a book has made me cry with pure, unselfish pathos. But I seem to remember that Carol Shields' Unless was a book which really moved me.

6. One book I wish I'd written: Oh, there are lots. I could say Dickens' Our Mutual Friend for the depth and comedy, or The Satanic Verses for the exhilaration, or Money by Martin Amis for the sheer wicked pleasure of the prose. But I'd probably have most liked to have written Destiny by Tim Parks, because it is written in a style - dense and intense - which I would love to be able to replicate. At the same time, I'd love to write a book as simple and beautiful as Margaret Drabble's A Summer Bird Cage, which is the absolute opposite in terms of style.

7. One book I wish had never been written: Oh, this has to be The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's brilliant. I can see it's brilliant. But I found it very disorientating and troubling and an unerving experience. I wish it had never been written so I wouldn't have to go back to it sometime to try to figure it out. Because I know I'll have to...

8. One book I am currently reading: I'm currently reading From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East by Bernard Lewis.

9. One book I have been meaning to read: I feel ashamed that, despite being a publisher, I've never actually read any of the books I've published cover to cover. There are a couple which I know merit a read, even though I'm not a specialist in the area, but I've never got to them (although I've read lots of bits, obviously). Beyond that, Vic's dad gave me a copy of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America a couple of years back and I'm ashamed to say I've not got round to reading it yet. I will though.

Sorry if that contained many, many more than nine books, but there you go. I'd be interested to see what kind of list Andrew or


Rob said...

Thanks for this Jonathan, esp. your comments on how you started reading. I heartily recommend the Roth - an excellent, angry novel.

Natalia Ulla said...

I will try to put a list together. The first book I read in English (about 8.7 years ago) was actually: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged Thirteen and Three Quarters

I really enjoyed it! :)