David Nicholls: “Giving books is changing the music at someone else’s party” | Books


The book I’m currently reading
That reminds me by Derek Owusu, his difficult, intense and poetic coming of age story. It is demanding but powerful.The book that changed my life
Tess des D’Urbervilles. It was the first book I adapted for the screen and gave me the confidence to write something other than comedy. Adaptation does that sometimes – gives you a helping hand in new territory. Chapter 15 also contains the germ of the idea of One day, for which I will always be grateful.

The book I wish I had written
There are hundreds of them, but looking at the shelves I would say anything from Anne Enright, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Strout or Zadie Smith, as well as the stories of John Cheever, in particular. Goodbye brother. I read these authors and I think, “How do they do this? ”

The book that had the most influence on my writing
Great expectations had a profound effect on me. I had no idea that “literature” could be so interesting and relevant and it always stuck with me. Unrequited love, father figures, the pain of adolescence, class and the madness of aimless aspiration; almost everything I wrote took something from this book.

The book I think is the most underrated
All the novels of William Maxwell, in particular So long, see you tomorrow et Evan S Connell’s Mme Bridge, a brilliant book on marriage, funny and heartbreaking on alternate pages.

The last book that made me cry
A particular paragraph in Children’s Bach by the great – and also underrated – Helen Garner, a gem of a novel about a perfect family falling apart.

The last book that made me laugh
Muriel Spark’s Girls with thin means, which is full of shiny zingers, and Naoise Dolan Exciting times, who has the same incisive spirit. As rude, rude by Caoilinn Hughes The wild laughter.

The book that I couldn’t finish
Every year I like to sit down and read the first trimester of Middlemarch. I turn the pages, thinking to myself “it’s just wonderful, a masterpiece”, then… stop. I think it’s local politics. I will one day come to the end, but I already suspect that Reverend Casaubon will not complete his great project.

The book I’m most ashamed of not having read
I also like Anna Karénine, although I never found the time to read it.

The book that I give as a gift
When I was younger I threw in a lot of poetry, leaving a trail of John Donne and EE Cummings and The rattle bag everywhere I have been. Now I tend not to give books as gifts because it always seems like an imposition. Read it! Read the book I have chosen for you! It’s like changing the music at someone else’s party.

The book I would like to be remembered
When people say “I read your book” I know what they are talking about. I prefer the two that followed, We and Sweet sorrow, but don’t worry that it will probably be One day or possibly Cloud Atlas.

My first memory of reading
I remember very well the intense melancholy of Moominland Midwinter, a profound Bergman-style sadness that I savored at the age of eight. I can hardly tell you anything about the story now but that happy sadness is still with me. What a fun kid.

My comfort read
Franny et Zooey by JD Salinger. I read it every year or so and I recognize all its limitations but I still love it, especially for its comedy; Salinger’s dialogue is superb. I could also have chosen Gatsby, but it’s a constantly changing book. I reread it on lockout and it struck me as much harsher and more disturbing than I remembered it, and brought me no comfort.

Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£ 20). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. delivery charges may apply.


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