I have a couple of big bookshelves in the living room by the window. They fill up with kids’ toys and board games as well as books, and I have to negotiate the television, the Xbox and the Wii to get to parts of it. Such is family life. Every now and then I have a big clear out, take a pile of books to the charity shop, then it starts to fill up again.
What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?
It’s hard to think of anything I wouldn’t have in there. I can’t stand literary snobbery, read whatever the hell you like. Personally I’m not much of a fan of celebrity memoirs, except I have the Alan Partridge book there which is awesome. I guess I wouldn’t want the UKIP manifesto there. Do they even have a manifesto? And if Piers Morgan has ever written a book, that will not grace my shelves.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
I review books for a couple of newspapers and magazines, so I’m coming across new writers all the time. Peter Swanson has been a recent brilliant discovery. He’s an American thriller writer, having a lot of fun writing slick, high-octane noir in the style of Patricia Highsmith. He’s only had two books out, and the new one, The Kind Worth Killing, is superb.
Where is your favourite place to read?
I’ll read anywhere, anytime. I have two young kids and a fairly open plan house, so I never get a moment’s peace, but if the book’s any good it should grab your attention no matter what. Apart from that, buses, train and planes.
Can books change lives?
I guess they can, all authors presumably think so, don’t they, or why do they bother? But I’m very aware that we’re just making up stories for each other. It’s not like I do anything useful like being a nurse or fixing plumbing. Sometimes I think gravedigger would be a more honourable occupation than writer, but my back wouldn’t be up to it.
If so, which one changed yours?
You see, plenty of books have changed my life, so ignore my grumpiness in the last answer. Jernigan by David Gates had a huge impact on me when I first read it in the early 90s. That someone could write something so dark and nasty that was still funny, that was a revelation.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?
Probably Raymond Carver’s collected stories, Where I’m Calling From. There’s so much in there in between the lines, underneath the prose. It’s one of the few books I’ve read over and over, and I keep finding new things in it.
What book did you give last as a present and to whom?
I’m always giving away my own copies of books and can never remember who to. I gave my proof copy of Willy Vlautin’s Northline to my mate Mark Buckland who used to run Cargo Publishing, then he eventually gave me it back, signed by the author. What a guy.
What are you reading now?
David Gates’ new story collection A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me. It is utterly brilliant. I keep folding over pages where I’ve come across amazing sentences.
What are your top ten books?
In no particular order:
- The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
- Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
- The Fever by Megan Abbott
- The Cry by Helen FitzGerald
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Double Indemnity by James M Cain
- Preston Falls by David Gates
- Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver
- No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
- The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin
…of course, that list would be completely different on another day.
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
I don’t really have treasured books, to be honest. For fiction, it’s the words that matter, not the physical thing. If I love something, I usually end up lending it to someone else anyway, then have to buy it again. The most sumptuous book I have on the shelves is Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, a beautiful and weird hardback that combines amazing illustrations with strange quasi-fiction.