1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good or bad?
This question is giving me nasty flashbacks to a university dissertation from a few years ago.
I have mixed feelings about literary prizes. It seems to me a spurious notion, the 'best' book of 2012, and extremely reductive. There's the question of setting criteria and then getting the judges to agree on a final choice. Then there are the many very good books that don't even make it on to the longlist. It's all very subjective. In some instances I've wondered whether it's the cumulative work of the author that's being rewarded, rather than a particular book.
On the other hand, anything that gets people reading and talking about books has to be a good thing, particularly if that dialogue extends beyond the literati. It's especially gratifying to see books from small independent publishers such as And Other Stories' Swimming Home on the Booker shortlist.
2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?
Best-selling literary fiction. A novel of ideas, but a page turner too. Is this too much to ask for? I've just finished reading Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, which strikes me as just the kind of book I'd like to have written, with a compelling plot, well-drawn characters, and a strong sense of place.
3. Describe your ideal home library/study.
Once I've written the aforementioned literary fiction, I'd rather like a library like the one at Alnwick Castle:
|Alnwick Castle library - photo from Beautiful-Libraries.com|
I'm very excited at the prospect of this calm, TV-free sanctuary and if my book cases are Ikea rather than antique then who's to worry? It's what you fill them with that counts.
4. Name two new authors whose work you think will stand the test of time, and explain your choices.
For me this is the toughest question. I'm a flighty reader, moving from classics to contemporary fiction quite indiscriminately. I very seldom read many books by the same author - I'm always looking out for something new.
My choice is a contemporary, rather than new, author - Ian McEwan. Whilst I haven't enjoyed all his books in equal measure, there are times when his writing seems to capture something fundamental about being human. Some books, such as Solar, are very much of our time, and it will be interesting to see what readers make of them a hundred years from now. Others, like Atonement, I think will stand the test of time.
As for a second choice - can I get back to you on that one?
5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?
I'd sooner receive books than anything else (with the possible exception of plane tickets), but I haven't compiled my wishlist yet. I'm still trying to choose the perfect books for friends and family.
Two books have caught my eye, however. The first is Masters of Photography: A Complete Guide to the Greatest Artists of the Photographic Age. Not the catchiest title, I know, but I do like to have a picture book for Christmas Day when there's too much going on to lose oneself in a novel. As a novice photographer myself, I'm very much at the 'conscious incompetence' stage, but this does look inspiring.
I still have forty-seven books left to read for my Classics Challenge and the series of Clothbound Classics would sit very well in my new reading room. I wouldn't say no to this rather fine Les Miserables for example:
6. What's the last book you did not finish and why?
With the exception of short story collections which I dip into and then forget to pick up again, it's been a long time since I didn't finish a book. It's not that I'm a completer/finisher, just that I'm getting better at choosing books I think I'll enjoy.
7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?
What a good question, but no great dilemma for me. So much of my literary pleasure comes from sourcing interesting books, that I'd be very sad to give up the thrill of the chase. It might take me twenty years to find those twenty books myself, but imagine the fun I'd have on the way. Providing they're not real stinkers, I think we can learn much about ourselves and about writing from the less than brilliant reads too.
However, if you could just point me in the direction of one or two of them...