My Life in 5 Books #1

A 1974 paperback edition of Richard Brautigan'...
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Radio Scotland are currently running a series called My Life in 5 Books intelligently presented by Stuart Cosgrove. I don’t think he’s going to ask me (!), but I thought the questions would be quite fun to answer for the blog anyway. Over the next few weeks I might even ask a few other writers I know and like to provide their answers.

Last week Cosgrove was speaking to AL Kennedy and I must say we were on the same wavelength with regard to a couple of the answers. I’ll respond to the questions one by one over the next few days. Here’s the first:

Which book have you read the most times?

First of all, I would have to say that I don’t often re-read books. There are so many things out there that I want to read so there simply isn’t time to re-read much. I’m going to cheat a bit and mention two. The first is a huge book that I’ve only actually read from start to finish once but I dip into it from time to time and consider it to be probably the finest novel I have ever read: Moby Dick. I’ve written about this and my fascination with it before so rather than repeat myself I’ll just refer you to the link:

 The other one, which I did re-read again recently so I’ve definitely read it twice (not sure I’ve read any book from start to finish three times) is Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. What is it about fishing and whaling that attracts me so much? Well it’s not the activities themselves. My last attempt at hooking a trout was almost twenty years ago and I didn’t even succeed at getting the flies on the line or manage to cast the bloody thing into the water. Oddly though, there are some other great stories about fishing that come to mind such as Raymond Carver’s So Much Water So Close to Home or Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.

I think it’s more the metaphors of water and rivers that appeal to me; the continuity and the source and that kind of thing, and those two stories are really about family life. I’ve mentioned these themes before too so again here’s a link if you’re interested:

Trout Fishing in America is a bit like that too. It isn’t really about Trout Fishing or America. I think it’s more about getting away from it all into another world or into your own head, and this becomes a source of inspiration for writing. I would add that it’s maybe better to leave books alone once you’ve read them as you are likely to find faults reading them from a different and more mature perspective. Stylistically this short novel (novella?) wasn’t as great as I remember it to be because I’ve moved on.

It was a bit like seeing a re-make of Starsky and Hutch or something and expecting it to be as good as it seemed twenty or thirty years ago. That’s never going to happen and the return to Trout Fishing in America was a bit like that for me. It’s not even my favourite Richard Brautigan novel, but nonetheless, still a very significant book that will always remain close to my heart.


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