Q&A: Books

I spotted this Q&A on Stephanie Pomfrett’s lovely blog here, and very much enjoyed reading it. I love having a voyeuristic peer into the bookshelves of others, and I decided that I’d fill in my own, so here you go…

What are you reading right now?

I picked up On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan earlier this morning and finished it today (it’s only a novella, I’m not some wunderkind), and I’m rereading Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. I’ve also just scooped Other People by Martin Amis from the bookshelf, because the cover is hilariously tacky. And I love Martin Amis.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read after you’ve finished this book?

I’d quite like to read something a little more recent. I rarely buy new releases, instead turning to the very well-stocked bookshelves belonging to my parents which are crammed full of dusty classics. That being said, I’ve promised to read Seth Rodin’s Purple Cow, about marketing strategies. I’m keen also to read The Dud Avocado, which is in a similar vein to Nancy Mitford and Dodie Smith. Oh, and I’ve just spotted Death and the Penguin, which a friend gave me to read years ago, and which I think it might finally be time for.

Five books you’ve always wanted to read but have never got round to?

Pretty much every book on my reading list for my English degree. I KID. Of course I read those. Most of them. Ok, here goes:

  1. Anything heavy duty and Russian
  2. Sophie’s World, which I have on my bookshelf but made me wildly depressed when I attempted to read it aged 12.
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. I bought it last year but it just perches on my shelf looking so…worthy, and I’m never in the mood for it
  4. The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, all about the first convicts being taken over to Australia and what their experience was like.
  5. Ulysses by James Joyce. I tried, OH GOD, I tried. But I couldn’t hack it. It’s a feat of endurance that I want to achieve one day.


What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?

Facetious answer: I don’t keep magazines in either of those rooms. Normal answer: plenty of Vogues, a Lula, probably a Dash, a bumper issue of Pop, various Sunday Times Style magazines, the Royal Society of Literature magazine which I haven’t even taken out of the wrapper yet.

What’s the worst book you ever read?

Tough question. I’ve read some Tom Wolfe which I found utterly repulsive and completely fascinating in equal measure. I’m sure I’ve read some abominations, probably in the ‘chick lit’ category which I tend to steer clear of. OH! Bridget Jones. I hated it with every fibre of my being and yet read the whole thing in a matter of hours at a friend’s house. Ghastly book.

What book is really popular but you really hated?

Oh man. I don’t know, I went through this stage of despising Jane Austen and breaking the heart of my English teacher when I loudly declared my hatred during class. I think Bridget Jones, from above, can also be added to this list. I’m getting cross just thinking about it. Grr, JONES *shakes fist*.

Bridget Jones

What’s the one book you recommend to everybody?

Ah, god, there’s no way I can choose just one. If you need to sort your life out, read Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy. If you need to FEEL, read One Day. If you want to be an actor, read What’s My Motivation by Michael Simkins, and hopefully it’ll put you off. And for the love of literature, please read Atonement, which is an entirely perfect book.

What are your three favourite poems?

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, i like your body by e.e.cummings, Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning.

Where do you usually get your books?

I steal many from my dad. I also get them from the library, often charity shops or second hand bookshops. I rarely ever get them full price in ‘normal’ shops, and I never, EVER buy them for my iPhone. Kindles are an abomination.


Where do you usually read your books?

Mostly in bed, late at night or early in the morning. Often in the bath, because I like how crinkly it makes the pages. On the train, when I’m feeling smug about what I’m reading.

When you were little, did you have any reading habits?

We used to live in Ascot during the week and travel back to our house in Sussex at the weekends, so I used to read on journeys home. Inevitably this was near the end of the day when the light was fading, so needless to say I thoroughly wrecked my eyes. I also liked to devour books in one go.

What’s the last book you stayed up half the night to read?

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It’s a fairly hefty chunk of book, and there’s quite a dramatic turn around the halfway point. I tried putting it down but my brain was in shock, desperately trying to decipher what was going on. I lasted around fifteen minutes before I picked it up again and read through til about 4 or 5 am.

Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?

Of course! I did this far, far too much during my English degree. ‘Duh, it’s like a famous quote’ ‘Where from?’ ‘Cliff’s Notes’.


Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

Oh, I’m positive I have. Fairly recently, I organised my bookshelves into colour order, so that now plays a part in my choice of new books. ‘That looks interesting’, I’ll think, ‘but I’m really looking for something more in a green colour.’ I’m a philistine. There are some fantastic covers of Lolita which I’d like to get my hands on (appropriate turn of phrase?!), and I recently repurchased a newer version of American Psycho to fit with my other neon hued Easton Ellis books.


What was your favourite book as a child?

The standards, Roald Dahl, Ballet Shoes, anything about boarding schools. Oh, and I adored Horrible Histories. OH, and Just William, far and beyond anything else. Just William was my bible. I also liked reading all the Blandings stories, because Lord Emsworth was a hero, and I found the constant talk of ‘fat pig contests’ endlessly charming and hilarious. Kingdom by the Sea was a brilliant war-era novel. And finally, on a different note, there was a book I liked called No Roses for Harry about a little dog in a jumper. Quality stuff.

Which book changed your life?

Lolita, which I read far too early, but which taught me so much about the art of novel writing. Nabokov writes in a way that makes the reader almost begin to encourage Humbert Humbert in his awful plans. He’s a thoroughly compelling villain. It changed my concept of what a good book should be, stuck in my brain and reverberated there long after I’d put it down.
I also read Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ at the age of around 11-12, which changed my life in the sense that it made me a precocious little twit. And it probably also caused me to develop some deep rooted psychoses which I’ll no doubt uncover later in life

Who are your top five favourite authors?

You can probably already gather most from my answers, but these, in no particular order:

  1. Ian McEwan
  2. Bret Easton Ellis
  3. P.G. Wodehouse
  4. Jonathan Coe
  5. Evelyn Waugh

What is your favourite classic book?

I actually love Frankenstein, even though I know it’s not what some might be considered to be a classic book. Despite the Boris Karloff associations many have, the story highlights some eternally relevant themes about what it means to be different, an ‘other’, as well as issues about paternity, responsibility, and what happens if the concept of God is replaced in society. Oh, and it’s got some pretty decent horror too.

Five notable mentions?

  1. Thinks…by David Lodge
  2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  3. My Booky Wook by Russell Brand – don’t judge until you’ve read it
  4. Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

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