Six books I love to reread

There are a few books that I regularly reread. These are not just books I like, but works that have also been influential over the decades. Each taught me something, and rereads are always a pleasure!

Candide: Voltaire

Candide is a fast-paced tale of misplaced optimism. It is the perfect antidote to a ‘things can only get better mentality’, and that sits well with me.

In an age when writers are constantly advised not to allow protagonists to fail, and fail, and fail some more, Voltaire turned the art of failure into a well-crafted, humorous and at times inspiring tale.

Whenever someone tells me my writing would benefit from a happy ending, I reach for this book. Fuck them all; the world needs a little more recurring bleakness!

Falstaff: Robert Nye

Disrespectful, rumbustious but very historically accurate, Robert Nye’s retelling of the tale of Falstaff  is a masterpiece on my bookshelf. Despite being base and at times absurd, it is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and includes a passage where he talks about his morning erection that is a pinnacle of English literature.

When I was at University a somewhat dour lecturer once told me I would never achieve anything as a writer as I had two writing styles: lads-down-the-pub irony and ironical lads down the pub. Reading Falstaff,  I realise that’s just fine and dandy!

Last Exit to Brooklyn: Hubert Selby Jr

An acknowledged classic, Last Exit delves into a world of flawed and often troubled individuals, and does so without turning them into cartoon-like jokes. It is touching, abrasive and challenging, but delivers its vignettes with care and consideration for the characters.

I first started writing in a time when any character was debarred from being a hero (or often someone deserving of respect) if their beliefs, sexuality, politics, mental state, sense of humour of pastimes didn’t reflect the norm. Last Exit was a revelation to the teenage me and encouraged the creation of characters I wanted to write about.

Breakfast of Champions: Kurt Vonnegut

I always had a soft spot for Vonnegut’s work, but Breakfast of Champions remains a firm favourite. It isn’t his best book, nor is it his funniest, his most thought-provoking or his most touching. However, it was the book that made me realise it was okay to play with literature; there doesn’t always need to be a trade-off.

Even today, picking up Breakfast of Champions makes me smile. Sometime I just flick through the pages and drink in the absurdity of the presentation.

Riddley Walker: Russell Hoban

When I read Riddley Walker, I had just given up on a first draft of a novel which was becoming increasingly fragmented and disjointed. Hoban’s novel was like a bullet to my brain: fragmented, disjointed, challenging, yet intricately woven around around a belief system created post-apocalypse, but thankfully without the typical dystopian tropes.

Riddley Walker has magnificence in spade-loads: its linguistics, structure, narrative and mood are both recognisable and bizarre in equal measures, but there is something about the darkness of the overall tone that makes it strangely uplifting.

The Mulatta and Mister Fly: Miguel Angel Asturias

This is one book I never tire of: the Mulatta and Mister Fly. If I had a pound for every person I’ve recommended this book to, I’d have roughly £237. Surreal, absurd, fascinating, enlightening, it’s a disturbing journey into chaos, darkness and demonic confrontations. Why it hasn’t been republished is beyond me.

When I first picked up The Mulatta and Mister Fly, it was like reading an old friend. The story pace is frantic, the various subplots unstructured, the characters manic and the plot so richly absurd it hurts.

It is, quite simply, fucking glorious.


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