The book I’m currently reading
One is Kapo by Aleksandar Tišma. This was hard to get hold of but having read The Use of Man and The Book of Blam, both recently put out by NYRB Classics, I had to find it. The title will tell you it’s not light reading. Also The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. She is a new favourite. I love her prose: a bit James-y, but brisker. Kind of as if modernism never happened, and so intelligent and undeceived. Full of aphorisms, and of interesting women in pain over dreadful men.
The book that influenced my writing
I wish the writers I love would influence me more. I’m just not sure it works that way. Can I say various dictionaries and thesauruses?
The book that changed my mind
I tried years ago to read Thomas Bernhard and either I was too young or I picked up the wrong one, because I wasn’t up to it and I had a false picture of him after that. This was remedied when I read Woodcutters a few weeks back.
A book that made me cry
Crying undersells it a little. I was profoundly upset by Journal 1935-1944, the diaries of Mihail Sebastian, who was a Jewish Romanian writer and playwright in Bucharest. Such loneliness and such waste. He was a great soul.
A book that made me laugh
The Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte. I cackled. And Zündel’s Exit by Markus Werner. Many laughs on every page. Poor Zündel goes through some appalling things.
A book I’m ashamed not to have read
Well the remedy to this is to read the book, to which end a friend bought me volume one of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time this Christmas and – here’s solidarity, or is it mutual strong-arming? – we’re both going to read the whole cycle.
The book I give as a gift
People should follow their own lights with their reading, I think. I know I don’t like being given books I haven’t asked for. That said, recently, and with his prior consent, I sent a friend a copy of Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey by Janet Malcolm.
My earliest reading memory
I can remember reading my first book. It had one word per page: apple, ball, cat and so on. I was about 18 months old. I read every page, and then in my happiness held my teddy bear in the air. Somebody took a photograph, which is now on my study wall. I was so happy. I remember it very well.
My comfort read
Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers by Antonia Quirke or Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald.
•First Love by Gwendoline Riley won the 2018 Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize.