I’m not afraid to admit that I was a little startstruck when Joe agreed to do this. Joe Dunthorne, one of Britain’s most energetic and engaging writers of cult novels and game-changing poetry has kindly let us have a sneaky peek at his bookshelf. Of course, it’s a brilliant collection chosen by someone with very good taste, his description of Austerlitz alone is enough to make you go out and buy three copies immediately. No more time wasting, take it away, Joe!
W.G. Sebald – Austerlitz
The main character of Austerlitz lives in Mile End, not far from my flat. He discovers that “you can traverse this vast city almost from end to end on foot in a single night…I would leave my house as darkness fell, walking on and on, down the Mile End Road and Bow Road to Stratford, then to Chigwell and Romford, right across Bethnal Green and Canonbury, through Holloway and Kentish Town and thus to Hampstead Heath…”
Austerlitz was a useful companion text to my arrival in London. As he walks around the city the narrator draws out histories through gaps in the scenery. “Before work began to rebuild it at the end of the 1980s (Liverpool Street Station), with its main concourse fifteen to twenty feet below street level, was one of the darkest and most sinister places in London, a kind of entrance to the underworld, as it has often been described.”
He talks about the hospital for the insane – better known as Bedlam – which, in the 17th Century, existed on the site of the station. “On the site where the station stood marshy meadows had once extended to the city walls, meadows which froze over for months on end in the cold winters of the so-called Little Ice Age, and that Londoners used to strap bone runners under their shoes, skating there as the people of Antwerp skated on the Schelde…”
W.G. Sebald: Austerlitz
David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
I had to cut my copy of Infinite Jest (bottom right in the photo) into three parts and rebind it myself with gaffer tape to make it easier to carry. But then, each night, I had to come home and catch up on the footnotes. It was annoying or rather, it would have been annoying, if the book wasn’t brilliant. Still, an excellent advert for buying an e-reader.
David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest
Cormac McCarthy – The Road
“Hey,” I hear you cry, “is that a first edition of The Road by Cormac McCarthy?” Well yes, as a matter of fact, it is. One of my favourite books by one of my favourite writers. Never has the end of the world read so beautifully and been so sad. No matter how bad things get in the forthcoming apocalypse, they’ll probably not get as bad as this.
Cormac McCarthy: The Road
A recent issue of McSweeney’s magazine included a severed head (opening that morning’s post was like the final scene in the film Seven) and before that, there was a full-scale broadsheet newspaper and a cigar box full of letters and photos. Those issues are difficult to make room for on my bookshelf. Luckily, more often than not, McSweeney’s is just a beautifully published book of great short stories, both fiction and non-fiction. Would it be immodest to mention that – after a decade of dreaming – I’ve got a piece in the next issue? It would, yes, but too late.
Don DeLillo – White Noise
When I love a book, it damages my own writing style. Since reading White Noise I have been ruined by ambitions of “the great literary set-piece.” In Underworld, DeLillo describes the baseball game in 1954 which decided the World Series and occurred simultaneously with the explosion of the Soviet Union’s first H-Bomb. In Mao II, it’s a Moonie wedding. In White Noise it is a chemical spill – the Toxic Airborne Event.
Don DeLillo: White Noise