My first memory of reading
My mother read me Ladybird books, in Dollis Hill, North West London, in 1971. Reading for me started with comics, mainly Beano, Whizzer and Chips, and in our house, The Broons and Oor Wullie, not because we are Scottish, It was because my mother collected children’s books and yearbooks from everywhere.
My favorite book growing up
The Billy Bunter books. This has to do again with my mother being a collector, since they were written in the 20s and 30s, and so outdated, even in the 70s, but she imposed them on me. And from Dollis Hill’s perspective in 1973, the bun-toasting adventures at Greyfriars School felt exciting. I became a fan and joined a Frank Richards appreciation society, The Old Boys’ Book Club, where I was 11 and everyone else was 80. I imagine if I went back to these books now, they would be abuzz with racism, classism and body. fascism, so I won’t.
The book that changed me as a teenager
Ways of Viewing by John Berger, at 18. It introduced me to the idea that what we assume to be natural is often ideological. In the book, this is mainly about art (particularly how the images of women in art are completely encoded with the male gaze) but I understood that almost everything we create, actually think, has an underlying unconscious ideological component.
The writer who changed his mind
John Updike. Again, when I was 18, I read it without realizing that it was part of a book sequence, Rabbit Is Rich. It turned me into the idea that, as Updike says, the work of art is to give the mundane its beautiful due: that if you are a good enough writer, your prose can do everything, even the most microscopic and ordinary things in life. . , rich and strange.
The book I returned to
I am currently reading, or rather listening, The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. I read quite a bit of James, particularly when he was doing a PhD in Victorian literature and sexuality, but while I found him interesting, I also found him soulless and devious. It is clear to me now that James was inventing psychological modernity in the novel. And to do that, you are prepared to go sentence after sentence refining the complexities of mood, thought, and expression. It is difficult but exciting.
The book that I reread
George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I read it when I was 20 years old and I thought: meh. Now, in my late 50s, I think that, in an unoriginal way, it is in fact the best novel written in English. I can hear all of Eliot’s longing, pain, and nuances about time, the tide, marriage, commitment, and the pressure of social order. It has passages of intense beauty and also, in a way that it has never achieved elsewhere, the most satisfying and elegant structure of all the great books.
The book that I could never read again
I guess I wouldn’t like the Whizzer and Chips Annual as much as I did back then.
The book I am currently reading
I have, in actual book form, waiting for me The Every by Dave Eggers. I really liked The Circle, which I thought was ahead of the game on what the internet is doing to us, so I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel, if my eyes will allow.
My consolation read
I am writing a book on atheism and I have commissioned a text of the Barcelona Dispute of 1263, which was a debate between a rabbi and a friar organized by King Jaime of Aragon about who is right: Jews or Christians? There’s only one way to find out: the Inquisition, as it turns out. Without a doubt, it will be lovely to settle in front of the fire.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism