Best short story I’ve ever read
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson — don’t read it if you’re alone in the house. Also love the short stories of Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Muriel Spark, Ali Smith…
I could go on.
Book I was forced to read at school which no child should have to study
I learnt to read to the Janet and John books. Tedious, sexist, middleclass insults to paper and ink. Part of the blame for the high percentage of my generation who experience problems with literacy must surely go to whoever decided these books would excite children about the written word. Thank God for Dr Seuss.
Best film of the book I’ve seen
Lynne Ramsey’s movie of Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar, David Cronenburg’s version of Patrick McGrath’s Spider and David MacKenzie’s screen version of Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam. Each is true to the ethos of the book and a work of art in their own right. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is better than Daphne DuMaurier’s book as are original screen versions of Ira Levin’s Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski) and Stepford Wives. The film of The Wicker Man far outshines the novel.
Best author photo
That first early publicity shot of Truman Capote. He looks innocent, cherubic, untouchable. Look a little closer though, you see traces of his Gillette sharp wit. There’s something unsettling in the photo. It’s an iconic image given a deeper resonance by our knowledge of how cruel old age was to him.
Book I would blush to be seen reading on the tube
How to Make a Magic Charm to Bring Love Into Your Life (I have never read this book, but saw it in a shop!)
My favourite novel that nobody else seems to have heard of
I’m sure lots of folk must have read Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, but no one I’ve ever mentioned it to has. It’s a brilliant detective novel, an exploration of memoir, memory, identity and the art of fiction. Sebastian is a writer and, while I recognise it can be a failure of imagination to simply write about writers, I like books about my profession as much as plumbers, nurses, sales assistants probably enjoy books about theirs. Sebastian’s brother finds part of a short story on his desk. “As he a heavy sleeper, Roger Rogerson, old Rogerson bought old Rogers bought, so afraid Being a heavy sleeper, old Rogers was so afraid of missing tomorrows…” A great evocation of the writer’s craft.
Book I’d most like to reread if I could find it again
Memoirs of a Sword Swallower by Daniel P Mannix. Reminiscences of travels with a North America carney show sometime around the 1950s. It’s a cult classic, Geek Love without the tragedy. It’s educational too. Anyone wanting to know the secrets of fire eating or how to swallow a neon tube need look no further. I know my copy is in the house somewhere…
My favourite bookshop
The shop I ran for around eight years but alas no longer exists so is now a bookshop of the mind. I also like Voltaire & Rousseau in Otago Lane Glasgow, miles of second hand books and a poor filing system, which can be frustrating but encourages serendipity. Plus I can walk there from my house & sometimes they give me discount.
Most overlooked literary hero
Robert Ross who stuck by Oscar Wilde through his darkest times. He was persecuted for his loyalty and his sexuality but never gave in.
Most obnoxious author I’ve ever met
The one who told me we could behave as badly as we want because we're artists - so I shot him.