Saturday, January 19, 2019

The books that made me / Margaret Drabble / ‘Lee Child does all the things I could never do. I’m awestruck’

Margaret Drabble


The books that made me

Margaret Drabble: ‘Lee Child does all the things I could never do. I’m awestruck’

The novelist, biographer and critic on laughing at Muriel Spark and never reading any Harry Potter

Margaret Drabble
Friday 18 January 2019


The book I’m currently reading
I read several books at once, skipping restlessly from one to another. Currently Naomi Alderman’s The Liar’s Gospel, prompted by a tour of the Jewish objects in the Ashmolean in Oxford, guided by Rebecca Abrams; The Bank That Lived a Little, an excellent account of the ongoing goings-on at Barclays by Philip Augar; and Tara Westover’s Educated, an extremely painful memoir about a Mormon childhood in Idaho. Can it really have been that bad, for so long?

The book that changed my life
So many, but let’s settle for Mary McCarthy’s The Group and Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

The book I wish I’d written
Anything by Lee Child. What page turners, what prose, what landscapes, what motorways and motels, what mythic dimensions! He does all the things I could never do, and I read, awestruck, waiting impatiently for the next.


 ‘Shakespeare was the determining influence of my desire to write’ … Margaret Drabble. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

The book that most influenced my writing
I think Shakespeare was the determining influence of my desire to write. I think of him every day.




The book I think is most under/overrated

Calling good books underrated is the kiss of death so I won’t choose one. I’ve never managed to read any Harry Potter, so if I call them overrated it will do nobody any harm. And I think the Tolkien cult has gone a bit too far.
The book that changed my mind

My mind is always changing.
The last book that made me cry

I cry all the time, at everything. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, WB Yeats.


The last book that made me laugh

I don’t laugh much, but I did laugh at Muriel Spark’s disastrous dinner party novel, Symposium.
The book I couldn’t finish

Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I’ve begun it many times, but never reached the summit. Not enough oxygen.
The book I give as a gift

I don’t give books very often – it’s so personal – but Sarah Moss’s extraordinary Cold Earth was a surefire success with an archaeologist friend. I gave my grandchildren so many copies of Dr Seuss’s The Sneetches and Other Stories that I may have put them off reading for life.
My earliest reading memory

The Radiant Way, the primer with which my newly demobbed father patiently taught me to read.
My comfort read

Anthony Trollope. I think I’ve read all his novels and can soon begin again. They are simultaneously soothing and annoying, in the right proportions.



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