As this is the last chance for you to send us your favourite books, I thought i'd ask Greg Stekelman if he'd share his top 5 (in no particular order).
And he kindly agreed.
Of course, I don’t really have five favourite books. Like most people I have quite a few books I quite like, and this vague list changes fairly often. Generally speaking, as soon as I say a book is my favourite, I stop reading it.
The Book of Sand, by Jorge Luis Borges.
Borges was a 20th Century Argentine writer most famous for his short stories. Influenced by everyone from Eastern philosophers to GK Chesterton and Edgar Allen Poe, his stories are a curious mixture of the gothic and the intellectual. A lot of his stories explore secret worlds, or secret identities, and that always intrigued me. More importantly, he’s Argentine, and my father is from Argentina, so I’ve always felt a strange form of kinship with Borges. When he’s writing about Buenos Aires, it feels like my own secret playground. No world he writes about seems as magical and exotic as the streets of Corrientes or Callao. His most famous book is probably Labyrinths, which is a very good introduction to his work, but I’ve plumped for The Book of Sand, which is just as good and contains The Other, a fantastic little story about a young and elderly Borges encountering each other on a bench in Cambridge.
Long Goodbye – by Raymond Chandler
Both my parents read Chandler – in fact I think that Raymond Chandler is the only novelist my father has ever read – so I grew up with the books lying around. When I hit my mid-teens I started reading them all, and The Long Goodbye struck me as the best of his Phillip Marlowe writing. Like lots of Chandler, it’s an exercise in style over content, in that the plot is always the same (the woman is always the villain. I think Chandler had a few issues) but the writing itself is breathtaking. The story revolves around Marlowe’s friendship with a charming drunk named Terry Lennox, whose apparent death sets off a chain of disastrous events. The prose; slack, laconic, staccato, whatever other cliché you wish to apply, is stunning. The dialogue is raw and heavy with portent. It is infinitely quotable. It is very good. Ignore all the film adaptations. They are mostly crap.
For Esme, with Love and Squalor – by JD Salinger
JD Salinger is, of course, best known for The Catcher in the Rye, which I read once as a teenager and disliked. Many of you may well have had similar experiences. Don’t let this put you off as Salinger’s short stories, mostly centered around the Glass family, are beautiful. If you like the films of Wes Anderson or the music of Belle and Sebastian, you will quickly fall in love with Salinger. Written in the early 1950’s, For Esme, with Love and Squalor (known in the US as Nine Stories) concerns itself with the lives of various members of the Glass family. There is something incredibly modern and yet sickly sentimental about this flawed, intelligent, morose, witty, wisecracking family. The central character is most often Seymour Glass, a sweet, sensitive young man who is unable to cope with normal life after witnessing the horrors of World War II. The eponymous short story For Esme… deals with an army officer (known only as Sergeant X) and his relationship with a young English girl named Esmé, whom he befriends in England and whose presence somehow enables him to survive the rigours of war. It’s a story I often return to.
The Dark is Rising – by Susan Cooper
There are few books that have as much power as the books you read when you’re young. And like lots of kids, I grew up reading fantasy novels: Ursula le Guin, CS Lewis, Alan Garner… anything to do with magic, monsters or King Arthur. I remember one week I was ill and my mother bought me Over Sea, Under Stone, the first in a five-book fantasy series. I enjoyed it, without thinking it was particularly great. Nevertheless, I bought the second book, The Dark is Rising. I loved it. I read it over and over. I obsessed over it. On his eleventh birthday, the young protagonist, Will Stanton, discovers he is an Old One, an agent of The Light, destined to fight against the powers of The Dark. I remember my own disappointment when I awoke on my eleventh birthday and discovered I had no amazing new magical powers. Still, I’ve come to terms with that.
I still have my copy of The Dark is Rising (complete with strange typo where one of the character’s names changes from Mary to Margaret). It has been read 40 or 50 times and is falling apart. Books are one of the few items where neglect is a sign of affection.
A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep – by Greg Stekelman
I wasn’t going to include this, but Simon said I should, and who am I to ignore Simon? This is my first novel – based on writing originally on my website. I’m terrible at summarizing my own work, so let’s call it a surreal, dark diary covering a year in the life of a fantastical character in north London. It is a celebration of both the cripplingly banal and the magically improbable. It has talking polar bears, Justin Timberlake, jokes, poems and interstellar porn. It’s available exclusively through The Big Green Bookshop. You should buy it.
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