My Literary Top 10 Jon McGregor
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver
Plus everything else he wrote. I really don't think I need to explain myself here do I?
Life After God by Douglas Coupland
Coupland was my original don. Generation X, with its insistence on the primary role of storytelling in modern life (a theme which some people seemed to miss amongst all the zeitgeisty mcjob stuff), was the book which first made me put pen to paper, and his writing influenced me for a long time. But I have to insist on Life After God as his finest work — simple, affectionate, sincere, and quietly memorable.
Night Geometry And The Garscadden Trains by AL Kennedy
Everything that short stories should be; restrained, elegant, brutally affecting. Brilliant at the small moments that can turn a life, and the ways in which people struggle to make themselves heard in a clamorous and uncaring world. Sometimes wryly funny, often sad, always authentic. I'm in a hurry to read her new book of stories too.
That They May Face The Rising Sun by John McGahern
I heard Mr McGahern read this on the radio at work one week, his brusque Irish voice barking out the crisply perfect sentences, and I was completely astonished. I've been trying to explain to everyone ever since just why it's such a perfect book, and failing miserably, so I've given up. Just read it. It's (according to some) not an immediately digestible style — the phrases are short, the paragraphs long, and the pauses almost entirely absent — but once you find the rhythm of it you'll fall in love, I promise.
The Pillow-Book Of Sei Shonagun
A slightly pretentious inclusion, but what the hell. About a thousand years old, but fresh as cherry-blossom; whoever says that lists and simple observations have no place in literature should take a read of this.
My Elvis Blackout by Simon Crump
Proof, if it were ever needed, that swearing and twisted craziness is not just big and clever but also very very funny. It’s hard to figure out quite what’s going on — whether it’s some hallucinatory fantasy, imagined biography, or just an elaborate revelation of Elvis as the sick serial-killing schmuck he might have been — but it’s damn hilarious. Especially when he takes Chris de Burgh out the back of the trailer and has him shot.
The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
As short and skeletal as Underworld was sprawling and long, this is a faltering and near-perfect meditation on the inadequacies and limitations of language. With two and a half characters, one of whom dies at the end of the first short chapter and another who may or may not exist, the strength of the book lies entirely in the writing; writing which is as finely tuned and evocative as anything DeLillo has produced. Which is saying something.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
The title essay in this collection, an account of his time on board a luxury cruise ship, is both funny and scalpel-sharp in its analysis of the many failures and disappointments of ‘luxury’, and by implication the pursuit of material pleasures. To be fair, a luxury cruise ship is a pretty easy target for this kind of critique, but when did you last find footnotes this funny?
The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay
Partly because this is very fine poetry, careful in its phrasing and its pauses for breath; but partly (mostly) because my brother's adopted and I read and re-read this for clues.
The Age Of Wire And String by Ben Marcus
Mostly I find it inspiring that this book was even published — it’s an incomprehensible description of some kind of invented world, tenuously related to our own but with a whole other set of physical laws and realities. The language is almost abstract, but somehow manages to be beautiful and mournful even as you’re wondering what on earth it all means. There’s a story in there somewhere, and maybe I’ll work it out the tenth time I read it.