My Literary Top 10:
Best short story I ever read
It’s a toss-up between three. Two of Jeanette Winterson’s, The 24-Hour Dog and The Poetics of Sex, both of which excited me and moved me and made me wish that I had had the courage and the fire to write them. And one by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain, which is formally steadier and safer, a much longer story, but which is full of passion and wonderful insight into the two hard men who are the protagonists, hard and tough but ripped apart by the unconventional relationship that they live.
Book that should be on the national curriculum
I don’t want to add anything to the National Curriculum. I want to take away the emphasis on testing, on endlessly re-working the same GCSE coursework, and turning out kids who don’t know anything and don’t care about learning. I want to allow teachers to teach books that they feel enthusiastic about in ways that allow passion and eccentricity and delight.
Best film of the book I’ve seen
Not strictly a film of the book. The TV documentary a few weeks ago in which a black actor caled Paterson Joseph returned to Harlesden where he had grown up and got a cast of local people who had never acted before or enjoyed Shakespeare, to perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at RADA after six weeks of rehearsals. It was very moving to see how he worked with the young people; especially how the boys, who had been in fights in real life, been knifed, nearly died, found it easy to work with anger and aggression but very difficult to access in themselves the emotion of love. I was in tears by the end of the programme.
Author I’d most like to talk to
Anyone who could tell me how to get my white towels clean, and that it was not a mistake to spend half the money I could have used on a washing machine, on a new bag. They need to tell me it’s just the washing powder that is the problem, and not that I need a new washing machine. Who might do this? Carol Shields perhaps? I don’t know, would she be insulted? I don’t think so, she wrote The Stone Diaries. I’ve just bought Paul Auster’s latest novel, Oracle Night because I heard him on Radio 4 saying there was a lot of domestic life in this book, a lot of going to the grocery store and that kind of thing, so maybe he would be good too.
Book I would blush to be seen reading on the tube
Several—but I am too embarrassed to say what they are.
My favourite novel that no-one else seems to have heard of
I tend to keep myself to myself a lot and not find out what is current and what not. But one I have read lately that might come into this category is Conversations in Bolzano by Hungarian writer Sandor Marai, who also wrote Embers. This one was translated by George Szirtes, a poet from Hungary. It is great that a poet could translate this, because the language is incredibly beautiful and rich. Much of the book is in the form of monologues by one or other of the central characters, and I found it spellbinding.
The book I’d most like to reread, if I could find it again
As I was reading Conversations in Bolzano (see above), I kept thinking, ‘I must start this again as soon as I have finished it’. I haven’t done yet, but I am still hoping to.
My favourite bookshop
Compendium in London. It’s closed now, but in the days before Amazon, it was the most wonderful shop. I used to order things from them, and whatever I was looking for, the person who answered the phone always knew it, knew where it was in the shop. It was amazing. I was so impressed that I once went down to London specially to take a bunch of flowers to thank them, and on the day they closed I went with a friend and took them a cake.
Author I’d like to nominate for the Nobel Prize for Literature
I don’t know. The Nobel Prize seems so big and important that the idea of nominating anybody freezes my brain.
Deceased author I’d most like to marry
Raymond Carver, post alcohol, if he was single, which of course he wasn’t. His poems make me cry, for their love of the ordinary things, the daily things: light and the river, and coffee in the morning. They remind me to get on with it, to get on with writing if I want to do it, and not procrastinate.