How do you organize your books?
I live with a former book dealer / retired Cambridge don and we have something like 15,000 books in our house, with each poem being published in the 20th century quite a bit. This is a problem. Books are spread in every room. There are piles of piles near each chair, and yesterday I found several forgotten boxes in the potting shed. The house is very old and flat, so as of now we are letting them roast where they will.
What book might people be surprised to see in your stack?
D. “Practical Looker Breeding,” by Brian Plummer.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
For my 40th birthday my mother gave me the first editions of Wolf’s Diary. He was a magical present. I remember being entranced by bindings as a child – pale pink and duck egg blue spine with Bloomsbury crouching. They will be the books of my desert island: the best possible mind.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you the most?
Obsessive. I used to live inside books. I was sad and lonely and out of my depth and books were an alternate reality that I could enter at my own will. My favorite was probably Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising”, set in Chillston a few miles from where I grew up. It gave me a sense of landscape as wild and conscious, and introduced me to the myths that run right through English literature. My parents were divorced and had very long car trips between their homes. My father attacked the very simple idea of buying audiobooks on cassette tapes, and we heard the stories of “three people in a boat,” “wind in the willows” and MR James so many times, that they were great To know the tracts. heart. As a younger old reader, I was wild to Cynthia Wiigt’s Tillerman novel and Alana adventures by Tamora Pearce, about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight.
How has your reading taste changed over time?
I have found little and interest in contemporary fiction.
If you need the president to read a book, what will it be?
“Solitary,” by Albert Woodfox, as a prelude to prison after prison.
You are organizing a literary dinner party. Which three authors, dead or alive, invite you?
William Burrows. I am eager to talk to him, but also getting some apples out of his head. Nancy Mitford, for Josh, and Gary Indiana, who I hope can be persuaded to sing.