Best short story I have ever read
It would have to be something by Chekhov, or ‘The Gaffer’, as we call him in the biz. Today my favourite is In The Gulley, and tomorrow it’s likely to be The Lady With The Dog. Yesterday it was Notes From The Journal Of A Quick Tempered Man. Or at least it might have been had I not been drinking myself insensible in the Victoria Bar in Gourock and thinking very little about short fiction.
Book that should be on the national curriculum
How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff. The title says it all, and sadly it’s at least as relevant now as it was when it was written, over fifty years ago. The bombardment of bullshit is unlikely to abate, but having this book in schools would at least help to instil in young minds a justifiable cynicism of all things statistical.
Best film of the book I’ve seen
Billy Liar. It’s my second favourite film of all time, behind the unassailable This Is Spinal Tap, and in front of the mighty Sex Lives Of The Potato Men. I make a point of not watching films of books I love - the thought of that Boyzone reject Colin Farrell playing Arturo Bandini makes me want to weep.
Book I would blush to be seen reading on the tube
On Hunting, a polemic by the disgraced right wing philosopher Roger Scruton. I wouldn’t want strangers thinking I was either a Scrutonite or a huntsman. I really enjoyed this book though, despite disagreeing with every point he makes bar one — namely, that there are too many domestic cats around and they’re eating all the birds.
Best opening line of a novel
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
From A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
My favourite novel that no one else seems to have heard of
Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards. It’s actually not a novel, it’s a collection of short stories, but never mind that. It’s a lost classic from the 1920s that has been out of print for twenty years, but someone on Evil Amazon is offering it for a penny plus postage. If you’re reading this you’re online and should really do yourself a favour and get it before anyone else does. And if it’s gone it’ll be well worth ordering from the library.
The book I’d most like to reread, if I could find it again
It’s pretty easy to find most books these days, so this is a bit of a last-millennium question. But there are still a few that I’ve never read that I would love to get hold of – the first and third Patrick Hamilton novels are only available for millions of pounds. I suppose I should try and request them from a library one of these days.
My favourite bookshop
I know I should plug an independent, but I’m going to give an honest answer and say Waterstone’s in Tunbridge Wells. I worked there for eight years on and off, mainly in the stockroom, and left a part of my soul behind. I wonder if they’ve painted over the pictures of Steps and Boyz Unlimited that I drew on the wall in marker pen.
Author I’d like to nominate for the Nobel Prize for literature
It would be a three-way toss up between Daren King, Simon Crump and Sylvia Smith. They all belong on that podium.
Deceased author I’d most like to feed the peacocks with
Flannery O’Connor. I know she wouldn’t be particularly impressed by me, but I would love be on the receiving end of one of her withering looks as I inevitably say the wrong thing as we scatter the peacock seed. Or whatever it is that peacocks eat.