The first book I remember reading on my own:
The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. After so many bunny books, Curious George, and Dick and Jane, this was a “real” book that had chapters and required a bookmark to mark where I had stopped reading because, of course, it was much longer than any other book I had read.
A book that made me cry:
Sophie's Choice by William Styron. Heart wrenching. Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty and Margaret Marshall Saunders’s Beautiful Joe (a long time ago). L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (SPOILER ALERT: Who didn’t cry when Matthew died?). Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture. Considering that I cry at the end of every episode of Law & Order SVU, and will never, ever watch Bambi again, don’t get me started.
The first adult book I read:
It must have been A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, because I can remember my mother being very annoyed, saying I was too young to read such a book. I went over it a couple of times, looking for the “dirty bits,” but never found out why she was so upset.
A book that made me laugh out loud:
One of them was certainly The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary. I loved the central character, Gulley Jimson, and his indefatigable approach to life. He just never gave up. Bill Bryson always makes me laugh—he’s so dry. I especially loved his book on Australia, Down Under, as it’s called in Britain, but elsewhere known as In a Sunburned Country. But maybe the funniest of all was Fielding’s Tom Jones. I can remember laughing out loud on the bus coming home from school. But I have to confess, I don’t often read funny books.
The book I have re-read many times:
There’s definitely more than one: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a perfectly elegant novel. And Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. When you get to the end of this beautifully crafted and prophetic novel, you realize that it’s a love story. Dickens’s Great Expectations never ceases to astonish me. And Ross Macdonald’s The Far Side of the Dollar, for its structure and for how it reaches into the past and pulls everything together. I also re-read Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, among others.
A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, and the Bible—all on my list ...
The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
All of Dickens, all of Jane Austen, plus Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. When I was at university, I found a book called Stephen Hero in the library, a first draft of Portrait of the Artist, written in a straightforward third-person narrative. Joyce allegedly threw it into the fire after a number of rejections and started again. What he then wrote, as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is, to my mind, a groundbreaking work of imagination, transforming the conventional narrative into a stream-of-consciousness work of art. I think that was when I saw what writing could be. Not that I could ever write Portrait of the Artist but, to quote Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” A woman’s, also.
The best book I read in the past six months:
I read too many books to pick just one, so here’s the shortlist:
Geraldine Brooks: Year of Wonders
Tan Twan Eng: The Garden of Evening Mists
Kate Grenville: The Idea of Perfection
Barbara Kingsolver: The Poisonwood Bible and State of Wonder
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies
The book I plan on reading next:
Since I’m a multi-media reader (I’m currently reading Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, by Michael Korda, and The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood on my Kindle, In the Shape of a Boar by Lawrence Norfolk on paper, and listening to an audiobook of Light of the World by James Lee Burke), I’ll probably read Lost Light by Michael Connelly on my Kindle, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro on paper, and listen to the audiobook of Night Film: A Novel, by Marisha Pessl.
A possible title for my autobiography:
Uphill All the Way ...
Don’t Get Me Started ...
S.P. Hozy: Who?