Charles Cumming’s Bookshelf

Where’s your bookcase located and what does it look like?


I have bookcases all over my flat – in the living-room, in the bedrooms, in the kitchen. Piles of books on the floor, even more hidden away in cupboards, due to lack of space.

What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?

I’ve never been into sci-fi, which is odd, because I enjoy watching science fiction movies. I’ve always liked books to be realistic, or at least located in some kind of recognizable environment. For the same reason, I haven’t read many fantasy novels.

What author have you discovered and loved recently?

I’ve come to the Flashman series quite late. The books are so well written and impeccably researched. As a stylist, George MacDonald Fraser is up there with the very best British novelists of the 20th century.

Where is your favourite place to read?

I usually read on the bus and Tube en route to my office, but my favourite place to read would be in a hammock or a deep, comfortable armchair on holiday in France in the summer.

Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?

I don’t know if books can change lives, but they can certainly change careers. Odd as it sounds, if I’d never read any Nick Hornby, I wouldn’t have written A Spy by Nature. If I hadn’t read Robert Harris’s Archangel, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write The Trinity Six. The late Christopher Hitchens had a profound effect on me politically, and of course every spy novelist working today owes a huge debt to John le Carre.

What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?

Whenever I’m asked this I almost always take Arther Miller’s memoir, Timebends. Miller grew up during the Depression, became one of the most important dramatists of the 20th century, married Marilyn Monroe and was embroiled in the McCarthy witch hunts. This is the story of that extraordinary life.

What book did you give last as a present and to whom?

Apart from free copies of A Foreign Country? I gave a friend Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, because she said she had never heard of Greene and I was very shocked!

What are you reading now?

I’m halfway through a new American spy novel, Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews, who worked in the CIA for more than 30 years. I can’t say whether I’m enjoying it or not because I’m reviewing it for a newspaper!

What are your top ten books?

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Money by Martin Amis

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?

I have a First Edition of Ian Fleming’s The Man with the Golden Gun.

*************************************************************************Charles Cumming was born in Scotland in 1971. He was educated at Eton and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1994 with First Class Honours in English Literature. In the summer of 1995, Charles was approached for recruitment by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). His sixth novel, A Foreign Country is out now.