Q1) The book you wish you’d written
by Bruce Chatwin
I am jealous of the Bruce Chatwin that exists in this book: one able to move freely, with elegance, from place to place and subject to subject. There’s a lightness and clarity about his work that I’m not sure I’ll ever match. I hardly ever read while at school, but when I started to, I read almost all of Jack Kerouac’s novels; the first girl I fell in love with recommended them. My love of Chatwin and Graham Greene maybe comes from something started by reading Kerouac in small-town Fife, and dreaming about being in other places.
Q2) The book that gets you through hard times
by Herman Hesse
Really, I’m talking about one hard time in particular when I felt isolated from everyone I knew, doubted everything about myself, and didn’t understand where I might fit in the world. The protagonist of the novel is much older than I was at the time, but the idea of being fractured and having to re-order, or re-arrange a personality in order to live life more fully was very useful to me in my twenties.
Q3) A book that most disappointed you
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I have a really uncomfortable relationship with this book. It could be that the character of Teresa made me think about myself in a way that I didn’t like, but I was surprised by how much I disliked the book as a result of that. Everyone I knew who’d read it expected me to like it, but I was so frustrated with the attitudes of the characters that I’d get angry while reading it and swear out loud at the pages.
Q4) Name a book with either a brilliant opening or a brilliant ending
Brilliant at its start and end, this book features in other sections of the website, so I won’t write too much here for fear of repeating others’ ideas.
The start of the book, however, startled me and drew me in - describing a connection between sounds and objects and a person looking for contact with something real in his life – a life changing find discovered while peeing at the back of an arts centre? Great!
Q5) Your favourite character from a novel
Maybe the Whisky Priest from The Power and the Glory
. His contradictions run throughout the book and are not explained, they’re just carried around within him. He becomes more and more real with each fault and contradiction revealed. At one moment, being chased by the police through the streets of a good-sized but unnamed Mexican city, he remembers he once had ambitions of promotion. He could have been priest of the town that he might now die in. All of his ambitions seem ridiculous in light of his current situation. He knows that if he is caught he’ll be shot and while running for his life and thinking about his past ambitions, he laughs.
Q6) Next on your 'to read' pile is...
by Kerry Hudson is next on my to buy list, but as it seems difficult to get books into Spain right now, that might have to wait, unless I buy the audio-book.
I have been carrying around a copy of Hanif Abdurraquib’s biography of A Tribe Called Quest called Go Ahead in the Rain.
I love that a poet like Abdurraquib writes about popular culture and treats it with the respect it deserves. American poets seem very comfortable writing about TV, film and music and I enjoy that. If you haven’t read any of his work, there’s a good essay about Soul II Soul and its use in the opening of the film Belly in The Paris Review. It’s called On Warnings.
Often it’s the choice of music we fall in love with that bridges the gap between being a child and being an adult and it can shape the way we interact with the world for the rest of our lives. More poets should write about popular music.
Q7) Your favourite poem
I used to play football out the back of The Bon Accord pub in Anderston. A small group of us decided to clear the football pitch of the rubbish and moss and broken glass that had gathered there and we then organised a weekly game with the idea that all were welcome. We stuck with that idea and it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in. Sandy (also known as Alexander Hutchison) was one of the players. I didn’t know that he was a poet until months after meeting him.
One of my favourites of his is called Incantation
I also want to mention Trapeze
by Layla Benitez-James, a writer who continues to amaze me in everything she does.
Q8) The greatest book you've ever read
I am going to choose Lanark
as the greatest book I’ve ever read. Its scale and imagination deserve that. I still think it’s one of the greatest books ever. ●