Professor Simon Kövesi

Friday 20th December 2019

Q1) The first book you ever loved

Would have been something like Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (which is apparently by Robert C. O'Brien, though I didn’t recall that name). That book really haunted me and along with The Silver Sword (apparently by Ian Serraillier) it’s one of the few I can remember moving me in childhood. I’d imagine I loved ‘Mr Men’ books earlier than that – and my Smurf comics early on, too. I like Smurfs.

Q2) The book you've read more than any other

I return to Byron’s Don Juan a lot more than any other long text. But also frequently read bits and pieces of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, and Nikos Kazantzakis’s Last Temptation of Christ – and in both, it’s the Pilate bits I tend to turn to. I have no idea why. The novels I re-read a lot cover to cover are Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.

Q3) A book that you despise

That’s a strong word and takes a lot of effort. It’s far easier to dismiss and ignore than actively despise. But the latest I tried to revisit was Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon. What a bag of self-inflationary hot air that book is. Like walking into a gentleman’s club in the 1910s and being shouted at for being in the wrong building. Just odious. There are probably worse books, in truth.

Q4) A book full of beautiful writing

If you made me, I’d say John Keats’s Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems or Percy Shelley’s Epipsychidion. Full of idealised accounts of love and desire. In fiction, I’d put Toni Morrison’s Beloved right at the top of that list.

Q5) The book you've been meaning to read for years, but haven't

Marcel Proust, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. That’s shameful. I haven’t even got a copy.

Q6) The book you're reading currently

Malcolm Chase, 1820: Disorder and Stability in the United Kingdom (2015) and Endland by Tim Etchells (2019).

Q7) Your favourite short-story

Mary E. Mann, ‘The Witch of Dulditch’. Many by Dulditch are among the greatest things I’ve ever read. The Complete Tales of Dulditch (2008) contains all of Mann’s short treasures. Then again, Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table (1975) is a very close second, and I love everything by Flannery O’Connor.

Q8) Your all-time favourite novel

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment. ●

Simon Kövesi is Professor of English Literature at Oxford Brookes University. He was born and grew up in south-east London, and studied at the universities of Glasgow, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Nottingham Trent. His 2007 book 'James Kelman' was short-listed for the Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year Award, in the same year that Kelman's Kieron Smith, Boy won the main category prize. His latest book 'John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History' will be out in paperback in September 2019. His current big project is a study of literature and poverty, 1800-2000.

You can read The Common Breath extended interview with Prof. Kovesi right here


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