Best short story I ever read: Baum, Gabriel 1935 - ( ) by Mavis Gallant
About a Jew and a German living in 1960s Paris, working as extras on films about the Second World War. Firstly because the characters are so engaging, but then also because it's such a perceptive examination of how WW2 has been absorbed into popular culture.
Book I finished reading but wanted my time back afterwards: Living History by Hillary Clinton.
Endless platitudes, slick and slippery. Where were the insights we were promised?
Book I would blush to be seen reading on the tube
See above: because it's obvious I just want to know how she felt about the cigars and stains.
Best ‘film of the book’ I’ve seen: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird directed by Robert Mulligan.
Stayed true to the text in its characterisations, which is why I think it succeeds so well as an adaptation. The casting is inspired: Gregrory Peck makes the perfect Atticus, but the children are also superb, which really shows the director's skill. Elmer Bernstein's score breaks your heart in all the right places, too.
Most overlooked novel - Aleksander Hemon's Nowhere Man.
I know he is much praised by critics, but I don't think he's had nearly the popular success he deserves. His concerns are very current: illegal immigration, the fallout from the recent Balkan wars, and his writing is just brilliant. He manages to be nostalgic and cynical at the same time, and has a very dry wit. His short stories are great, too.
Most out of date author photo I’ve seen
My bugbear is ENORMOUS full-page author shots. Tristam Hunt's on The English Civil War at First Hand springs to mind, though it feels mean to single him out as he is only one of many. I realise his publishers were selling his good looks as well as his erudition, but authors are allowed to say no to these things...
Most famous author I’ve met who acted like a prat
I am far too discreet to answer this question. If humiliation of authors is your thing, you could always read Mortification: Writers Stories of their Public Shame (ed Robin Robertson)...
My favourite bookshop: Methvens in Windsor
Their readings draw a loyal (and large) crowd of regulars, which is proof of how well they treat their customers. Knowledgeable, engaged staff, very welcoming, I can't praise them enough.
Author I’d like to see presented with all kinds of awards
Mavis Gallant because she deals with the political upheavals of postwar Europe on a human scale, and does it so well. Graceful, precise storytelling.
Celebrity author I'd like to see beaten with a stick, then never again
Ann Widdicombe: she crows so triumphantly about her books. I've never read them, so can't comment on their quality, but the cringing she induces verges on pain.