I chose The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter because it speaks of my home in the deep south and reminds me of my upbringing in Alabama and Columbus, Georgia, which was also McCullers’ home – something I learned only after moving to the UK, to which my mother replied, “oh yes, her family went to our church; I’ll take you by her house.” There is something poignant about the central character of the novel being a deaf mute that takes on whatever burdens the other main characters place upon him, sometimes without his knowledge, almost always without his consent. The setting, the characters’ motivations, and the (mostly) well-handled use of race in the novel makes it as relevant today as it ever was.
I was so inspired by the Mr Men books when I was little that I’d spend my time thinking up new characters, then having the brass-neck to write to Roger Hargreaves with my suggestions. I don’t remember what they were, but I am fortunate to have his replies, which were always animated. One says ‘Thanks for your Mrs People ideas!’ which was before the Little Miss titles appeared. I loved those books. I loved their colours. I loved their lives. I loved their shoes. I loved them so much I bought them for my young nephew. He loves them too.
I love this book. It’s rambunctious. It rolls round the tongue. It’s a time machine to take you to the late Georgian era on an adventure with Mungo Park on his two trips to find the source of the Niger. It’s not sanitised history – London is filthy, life is harsh and medical procedures make you wince. When I first read it, I couldn’t put it down. I still pick it up, years later. The prose is so good it’s like poetry. When TC Boyle, the author, came to the Edinburgh International Book Festival I sat in the front row listening to him like he was a god!
My wife Louise loved Pablo Neruda and this was the first gift she ever bought for me. So it’s very special.
Apparently Neruda wrote the poems in Los versos del capitán as a celebration of his love for his third wife, Matilde Urrutia – a love affair that is itself celebrated in the acclaimed film Il Postino. The translation, Louise told me, loses nothing of his poetry and reflects a passion that Louise loved.
As soon as I agreed to be photographed with a book, I knew immediately that it would need to be Jilly Cooper’s Riders. Romance novels aren’t usually my style, but Riders had me swooning away much like women in the presence of Rupert Campbell-Black. The characters, the story lines, and the non-stop bed hopping keep this book full of wickedly good fun including a rather descriptive foursome scene and highly emotional moments as Rupert leads the British show jumping team to Olympic gold. Riders is a timeless classic that when mentioned will always bring a smile to my face.
I was seven years old, approaching my eighth birthday when my older brother Colin announced that he would not get me a birthday present unless I read this book. And this book was the Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. At the time I struggled to read at all, let alone a whole big book. But I wanted that present, so I dove in, and was completely captured. A quick trip to Wikipedia tells me that it now has fallen out of favour, as it fosters prejudice against Irish, Jews, Americans, and the poor. Who knew? None of that registered with me. I read it, initially begrudgingly, and then with love. The story, and the images it conjured in my mind’s eye occupied my hopes and dreams for the weeks and months that followed. I now cannot remember what Colin gave me for my birthday, but I guess the enduring present was learning to love to read.
100 Bookpeeps is a project that represents my contribution to the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookfellas project.