Thursday, 26 April 2018

The "20 Reading Questions" questionnaire (h/t: Stephen Bush at the New Statesman)

No idea where New Statesman writer Stephen Bush came across this, but...

...when it appeared on my Twitter feed, complete with his answers, I couldn't resist answering the questions. Here goes:

1. Favourite genre
Currently, it's film books - i.e. books about old films - but for the past few years I've most often turned to Golden Age British detective fiction when I find myself at a literary loose end.

2. Current book
I'm dipping into both the massive, and massively informative, The Film Encyclopedia 7th Edition: The Complete Guide to Film and the Film Industry by Ephraim Katz, Ronald Dean Nolen, and Halliwell's Film Guide (2004 edition), and I've just started The Perfect Murder Case by Christopher Bush, a 1929 detective novel whose opening lines are: "I am going to commit a murder. I offer no apology for the curtness of the statement."

3. First book you remember loving
I can't recall any of the individual titles, but I do remember loving Anthony Buckeridge's series of novels featuring the schoolboy chums, Jennings and Darbyshire. After that, it was probably Hound of the Baskervilles - mention of The Grimpen Mire still makes me shiver.

4. Book/series you wish would be adapted to film
The Bernie Gunther novels by Phillip Kerr (who died a few weeks ago: RIP) - HBO, in conjunction with Tom Hanks's production company, were developing a series featuring the Berlin detective, and Woody Harrelson has said it's the only project that would lure him back to TV, but I've no idea whether it's going ahead or not, or whether the success of the recent Babylon Berlin TV series will have helped or hindered its prospects.

5. Favourite protagonist 
George Smiley or Philip Marlowe

6. Favourite antagonist
Satan in Paradise Lost or Karla in the Smiley novels.

7. Do you write any stories? 
Used to.

8. A movie you think was better than the book 
The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Graduate, The Godfather... lots!

9. Best book you've read this year
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

10. One of your favourite authors
Josephine Tey

11. Least favourite genre to read
Romance, Historical Romance, and modern novels about sensitive left-wingers experiencing angst in North London

12. A book you'd recommend to a friend
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov or The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (mind you, I recommended both to a book group a few years ago, and everyone hated them!) - or John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.

13. Favourite film adaptation of a book
The 39 Steps (1935)

14. Book you've read the most times
Farewell My Lovely, From Russia with LoveTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and The Code of the Woosters.

15. A book you didn't expect to like
Troubles by J.G. Farrell - I couldn't get on with it at all when I first tried to read it in the 1970s, but when (without much enthusiasm) I gave it another go forty years later, I adored it - a work of true genius.

16. Favourite classic book
Wuthering Heights (yes, I know - what a girl!)

17. Book that's impacted you the most
Ooh, that's tricky - as a teenager, Macbeth, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle; as a young man, The Gulag Archipelago, The First Circle, and Colin  Wilson's A Criminal History of Mankind; later,  Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, and Paul Johnson's A History of the Modern World; later still,  The New Testament,  Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer.

18. If you could meet one author, living or dead
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

19. An author you think more people should know about
Walter Tevis and  Lionel Davidson.

20. Favourite book/series of all time
The greatest novels I've read are War and Peace, The Devils, and Middlemarch ; my favourite book is The Code of the Woosters (just hearing the title makes me smile); my favourite series? In the past, James Bond or Philip Marlowe - but it's probably George Smiley these days.


  1. I've just finished Paul Johnson's A History of the Modern World – marvellous, should have read it 25 years ago when my grandmother gave it to me for Christmas.

    No room on your answers for any Scruton books?
    Karl Popper?

    Evelyn Waugh?
    William Faulkner?
    Anthony Powell?
    Robert Louis Stevenson?

    Willard Van Orman Quine?

    No poets. Seems unlike you.
    And no biography? Good genre, I think.

    1. "The Open Society" definitely should have been on the "impact" list - made a huge and lasting impression.

      Waugh - Decline and Fall just failed to make the cut. I've only read one book by Faulkner, and that was last year. Anthony Powell - not a big fan. Stevenson? I enjoy him, but he never really rocked my world. Quine? barely understood a word. As for Scruton, the totality of his work (and his tutorials) have obviously had a great impact on me, but there's no single stand-out book that changed my mind forever.

      Poets - apart from STC, Milton gets a mention.

      The Jung book is, essentially, an autobiography - the most fascinating I've ever read.

  2. 16.Absolutely couldn't agree more.
    18.STC.can you explain why please?

    1. 16. What a couple of soppy romantics we are!

      18. Every contemporary account of Coleridge I've ever read suggests he was (a) a mess of a human being, and (b) an utterly fascinating talker, whether in conversation or delivering public lectures - he would, a friend remarked, enter a room talking at full volume, and leave it hours later, still talking (his opium-eating might have had something to do with - but he was apparently the same before he started taking the stuff). My favourite poet, a great literary critic, a philosopher, and a conservative.

  3. STC was a poet David Moss, and a founder of the English Romantic Movement,which I know you know.
    Wasn't one of his poems used as a voice over in the movie Citizen Kane?
    Great stuff.

    1. Oops, missed STC, join you in asking for clarification on 18.

      According to a marvellous biography (q.v.) of him both Wordsworth and Coleridge thought William Blake was exceptionally gifted but, whereas Coleridge loved spending time with him, Wordsworth's patrician inclinations kept him from ever meeting Blake.

    2. Wordsworth was a greater poet than Coleridge, but evidently a bit of a stuck-up sticky beak.

      ...and Coleridge invented fell-walking. Just thought I'd throw that in.

  4. I read Paul Johnson's "A History of the American People" [1997], but got the impression that long tracts were written by Rita Chevrolet [pages of economic statistics]. David Moss has re-triggered my interest and I will try him again. After all, his column in the "Spectator" was usually excellent as were Private Eye's lurid stories.

    9. "Freedom Farewell" [1936] by Phyllis Bentley and "The Ides of March" [1948] by Thornton Wilder. With my limited knowledge of Roman history I was astonished by the amount of scholarship that was displayed in these two historical novels.

    15. "On Golden Hill" [2016] by Francis Spufford.

    1. You read - and enjoyed - the novel that won the Costa Book Award for a first novel, and the Ondaatje Prize in 2016? I wasn't expecting that! I've only read his "The Child That Books Built"(2012), which I enjoyed.

  5. No room for Spike Milligan's Puckoon ?

    1. Sorry, Riley - but I never got to the end! Not big on Oirishness. I preferred his autobiographical works and I really should have included the Goon Show Scripts book on my list of most-read books, because I must have read it at least 20 times!