My first memory of reading
Around the age of five, in elementary school: the story of two siblings, Janet and John, who didn’t have much life except to throw a red ball. Shortly after, Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Greedy – much more fun and terrifying when the giant shows up. The cover retained my bite marks.
My favorite book growing up
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively, about a boy chosen by the spirit of an alchemist to be an apprentice. It’s beautifully written, set in the rural English world of my childhood, and I was reassured by the way the story was resolved not by force or trickery, but by acceptance, time and what we would now call emotional intelligence.
The book that changed me as a teenager
EB White’s Charlotte’s Web gave me the uncomfortable idea that the contents of my bacon sarnie had wanted to be alive as much as I had. The Diary of Anne Frank and Native Son by Richard Wright gave me a sense of proportion regarding my own problems and injustices.
The writer who changed my mind
The Reason Why I Jump by Naoki Higashida changed my mind about autism when I read it in my early 40s. Previously, I had interpreted my son’s non-verbal autism as cognitive impairment. Thanks to this book, I understood that it was me who suffered from a cognitive impairment.
The books that made me want to be a writer
Several, in no order: Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis; Watership Down by Richard Adams; Susan Cooper’s quintet The Dark Is Rising; the closing line of The Lord of the Rings – “Well, I’m back” by Sam. I went to bed on Saturday morning asking the book, “How do you do that?” How do you make readers feel the way I feel now? »
The book I came back to
James Joyce’s Ulysses was my lockdown read. It was becoming embarrassing to have to remain silent and vague when the subject of Joyce came up. I’m a professional novelist living in Ireland, for heaven’s sake. This time it clicked.
The book that I read
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin, once a decade. It’s trippy, human, breathtaking, curious, feels more foreboding year after year, and has one of my favorite lines of anything: “The king was pregnant.” The book is a chance to catch up with my past and my future and see how we are doing.
The Book I Could Never Read Again
As a child, I devoured Willard Price’s Adventure series books, about two white American brothers, Hal and Roger Hunt, who travel the world in search of endangered species to crate and return to the zoo. of New York from their father. Our brave heroes outwit rival animal hunters, Africans, Asians and “savages” too stubborn to recognize a white messiah when they see one. For some reason, you no longer see the books around you…
The Books I Discovered Later in Life
The Independents of Halldór Laxness. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. Literature is an all-you-can-eat buffet with no expiry date.
The book I am currently reading
Sudden Traveller, Sarah Hall’s latest collection of short stories. Ye Gods, Mrs. Hall is talented.
My comfort read
Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients Cookbook, a Father’s Day gift from my wife a few years ago. Pick something you have the ingredients for, follow the directions, serve it, and shout, “It’s ready!” Laze around as everyone eats the first bite, shuts up and my wife says, “You should do this when your brother comes.”. If I need to cheer myself up, that usually works.