Admittedly I stole these questions from another website, but I thought they might be fun to answer!
What book is on your bedside table right now?
I’m working in Ukraine so I don’t have a massive pile of books on my bedside table, but I do have my trusty Kindle with me. I’m currently reading The Cloven Foot (1879) by E. M. Braddon, and dipping in and out of an unpublished novel written by my colleague, Mark, called Chase Adler.
What was the last really great book you read?
The last really, really great book I read was during the Summer whilst I was back at my family home in England. It was called the Crofton Boys (1841), by Harriet Martineau. I bought the 1841 first edition on abebooks and I was very excited about the tactile experience of reading it in its original format. Because I have to read my books on a Kindle while I’m away, I like to indulge in good quality Victorian originals when I can. There’s something quite wonderful about reading and holding a book that’s over 150 years old. Oh, and I also read The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst this summer. It was absolutely amazing!
If you could meet one author (living or dead), who would it be and what would you ask them?
I read mostly Victorian novels so it’s impossible to meet my favourite authors. But if I did have a time machine I’d like to drink tea with Anthony Trollope, and ask if he agreed with my university thesis, which was a psychological and biographical critical study of father-son relationships in his novels. I do however have one favourite living author: Alan Hollinghurst. I absolutely love his books and I have all five of them signed. When I met Sir Andrew Motion, our excellent former poet laureate back in 2010, I amused my professors immensely by quizzing Sir Andrew about Alan Hollinghurst who was his roommate at university!
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelf?
I have an ever growing collection of pre-Tom Brown public school stories on my shelf. They are all first editions.
How do you organise your personal library?
I have a very simple organisational scheme. My signed poetry books are all lined up alphabetically by author on three shelves above my cupboard. My collection of Pre-Tom Brown novels are shelved in date order, and my other books are just stacked where ever I place them. I also have a pile of ‘to read’ books – on the righthand side of my desk, and a large collection of miscellaneous biographical books, which keep getting boxed when I go off abroad.
What book have you always meant to read but not got to yet?
I’ve always wanted to read ‘Lord of the Flies’ as the author William Golding was a teacher at our local grammar school during the 1940s and 50s. In the way of classics, I’ve never got around to reading Don Quixote by Cervantes, or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugh, although I’d really like to read them both. Actually, I have a nice little paperback copy of The Hunchback with me in case my Kindle ever goes up the spout!
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel like you should have liked but didn’t?
We had to read a lot of American authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, etc, which I didn’t enjoy really … and a whole bunch of books using stream of consciousness techniques, which I didn’t enjoy either. To this day I still don’t understand what Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is all about. A lot of my uni chums couldn’t get into the classics we had to study, so each to their own, I guess. I read all of Jane Austen’s work when I was a student, and nearly 30 of Trollope’s novels, and I loved every one of them!
What kind of stories are you drawn to?
I like bildungsroman novels best of all. I really enjoyed the Jeremy books by Hugh Walpole: Jeremy, Jeremy and Hamlet, and Jeremy at Crale – they were really interesting and insightful books seen from the perspective of Jeremy and his dog! This is also why I like ‘school stories’ so much, especially the ones that chart many years. I also have an obsession with religious novels and books about clergy. Again, Anthony Trollope and Hugh Walpole hit the spot there.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
The Holy Bible of course!
What do you plan to read next?
I’d like to read more of Mrs. Henry Wood’s books, and also the six books in the ‘Carlingford series’ by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant. I am also probably going to give the Northanger Abbey ‘Gothic Books’ a bash this year.