My Literary Top 10:
Best short story I’ve ever read
I don’t have a ‘best’, but I do very much admire Joseph Conrad’s ‘Amy Foster’. It tells the story of a South-Slav peasant exiled in a Kentish village where everyone fears him except Amy Foster, a plain girl who eventually marries him. But when he falls ill and reverts to his mother tongue, she, too, is frightened by his foreignness. She takes their child and abandons him. He dies alone. It’s a tragic story about language, fear and loneliness.
Book that should be on the national curriculum:
Leo Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat for Europeans and Americans, Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa for the Middle East.
Best ‘film of the book’
Can’t think of one.
Favourite books about exile
Gilgamesh, Dante’s Comedy, the haunting story of Orpheus, the poems Ovid wrote from his bleak exile by the Romanian coast of the Black Sea, Albert Camus’ luminous essays, Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (translated by Denys Johnson-Davies). And, more recently, Latecomers by Anita Brookner, Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah (translated by Ahdaf Soueif) and the marvellous Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels.
My favourite opening line of a novel
An ongoing contest, but here’s a current favourite: ‘I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.’ From the miraculous Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
My favourite novel that no one else seems to have heard of
Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North.
The book I’d most like to reread, if I could find it again
Merleau-Ponty’s book on Cézanne, particularly the essay “Cézanne’s Doubt”.
My favourite bookshops
John Sandoe (www.johnsandoe.com) in London, Peter Budek’s Eagle Bookshop (www.eaglebookshop.co.uk) in Bedford, Madbouli in Cairo (particularly the secret apartment upstairs, stacked with banned books), and Powells (www.powells.com) in Portland, Oregon.
Author I’d like to nominate for the Nobel Prize for literature
I think Mario Vargas Llosa has done enough to get it.
Deceased author I’d most like to meet
Most writers I admire I have no interest in meeting, but I would have liked to have met Albert Camus.