Which books do you choose to have in the background if you’re a newbie writer and someone is coming round to your house to take a photo of you for public consumption? Here’s what I ended up with on the windowsill by my desk:
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. This has got such an amazingly addictive natural flow – I read it when I was writing Stop the Clock in the hope that some of it would rub off. So, ladies, who are you going to choose: the hot stuff with the motorbike who’s good at fixing things, or the remote, touch-me-not brainiac who plays the piano (and is stinking rich)? If only you could have both. Or alternate. Which Bella kind of does. Smart girl!
Stop the Clock by Alison Mercer. I’m hoping that people will find this book has a big heart but a bit of bite too. And some surprises… One of my friends missed her tube stop because she was too busy reading it. I hope others will find it as hard to put to one side as she did (though without being too inconvenienced as a result).
Daughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendelson. I love this book, the characters are great and it’s beautifully written. There’s a spiky dumb sister, a brainy fed-up one, a rogue lech, a put-upon wife and an overblown academic who gets his comeuppance.
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. My tip to anyone who is considering shelling out a fortune on a long creative writing course would be first to buy all of this man’s books on how to write, plus Stephen King’s On Writing, and go on an Arvon course, which is a week long, and see how you’re fixed after that. As John Gardner taught Raymond Carver, I’m inclined to take his advice seriously. He’s very peppery and expects you to do your work. (He used to lend Raymond Carver a space to write in, too.)
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The book is really quite unexpected in places – there’s a scene that surprised me when I re-read it, where they go on the piss in London and end up in a brothel, or at least, a ropey club with girls who are interested in cash gifts. And then they do a runner and drive the wrong way up a road and end up getting nabbed by the old bill. It’s a shame that it’s sometimes perceived as glorifying fey posh youngsters in cricket whites when the sadness and yearning in it is about loss of family and friendship and youth, and trying to find or reclaim something from general disaster. But the imagery from various adaptations sticks!
Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Elegant prose, the seduction of wealth, youth, sex, cocaine, searching out and laying claim to the people and places you want to belong to, being on the inside and the outside at the same time. One of my very favourites out of the books I’ve read in the last five years or so. I read it on the Oxford tube coming into London through Notting Hill – will never be able to see those big creamy houses and private gardens without thinking of this book.
Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. A friend gave me this recently and I was completely charmed by it. The crumbly old castle and hunger and eking out the candles, the girls dreaming of escape, the useless old dad who just isn’t helping, the devoted swain who is nevertheless not quite the ticket… It follows a year through the seasons, with ever grander notebooks as the narrator’s fortunes change… it’s immediate and dry and funny, and magical and pastoral at the same time. Would be a terrific book to read if you were stuck in bed with flu, or bored of mummy porn and wanted something that is about sex but not explicitly.
Lynn Barber’s Mostly Men. I would hate to be interviewed by her. But she’s brilliant.
The Faber Book of Reportage, edited by John Carey. First-person eyewitness accounts of moments in history. Good for reading if you’re a bit stressed, as most of the moments are actually quite unpleasant, and make you glad not to be there.
OK, enough from the pile by the windowsill. More books to come! They are everywhere in our house, even in the kitchen cupboards.