Not too many surprises here from Blur’s notoriously quasi-reformed louche, though Martin Amis seems like he would have been a shoe-in for the list with London Fields, what with its influence on Blur’s career-defining album, Parklife. I suppose that was more Damon Albarn’s Bag. Anyway, James’ tastes mimic his English-ness and his former penchant for drugs and drink with a touch of the existential. The full list with James’ commentary follows.
1. A Capote Reader
Truman Capote is my favourite writer. He was a phenomenal under-achiever and wrote very little really – he was far too busy having fun, going on week-long vodka binges and hanging out with other famous people. Do I model myself on him? Well, you can’t help admiring people and copying them. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the most romantic story ever written (and as usual there’s a shite film of it). A man spends his life looking for the woman he’s lost. There’s no happy cat-in-the-rain ending like in the film.
2. The Basil and Josephine Stories by F Scott Fitzgerald
It’s about two posh Long Island kids. I like it really because no one’s read it here, but any compendium of his stories would do. He’s another Long Island glamour boy, another hopeless romantic. It all went so horribly wrong for him throughout his life – he was reduced to writing for magazines in the end. It’s a familiar tale; The Great Gatsby sells more now than it did in his lifetime. But he did once say, “You’ve got to write for the youth of your generation, the critics of the next and the schoolmaster of ever after.” So he knew what he was about.
3. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
One of two books that have stayed with me from school. It’s like drinking Ribena – it just slips down. I like the fact that he was mythologising being a yokel, basically. The other-worldliness makes it seem really magical. After Cider with Rosie, I read As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. He walks to Spain, just like that – nice one! I guess that was the first insight I had into another world. I admire him for incisiveness; he was not afraid to say anything. Great writers today are naturally drawn to Hollywood which means there’s a massive amount of censorship or editing, so it’s nice to think you can just write about your life and it can be interesting. Woody Allen said, “80% of it is just turning up.” If everyone wrote a book, 80% of them would be good. Everyone’s story is interesting, if it’s written in the right way. And Laurie Lee proves that.
4. I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill
Another book from school. It’s about two boys who become step-brothers, and one drives the other to suicide. It’s stayed with me, even though I read it only once.
5. The Outsider by Albert Camus
Because Camus smoked. And played football. And the Cure wrote a song about it. And because he once said, “Literature is about trying to capture the one or two moments in your life when your heart opened up.”
6. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
Great to read on aeroplanes – she doesn’t half come out with some good lines. She’s so funny, such a good writer, I’d love to have her round for dinner. I was gutted when I found out she was a lesbian – I had fallen in love with her writing.
7. Bella Vista by Colette
Bella Vista is a wonderfully spooky story. I read quite a lot of French at university, but there are just so many books; you need a map. Capote said he liked Colette, so I started reading her. She was a proper grande madame, rather naughty. She knew a lot about truffles.
8. Carry on, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
Delightful, booze-soaked, hangover-curing, dainty writing. It’s hard to choose one book, as all of them fit together in one massive sprawl. The characters wander in and out. It’s like a contagious disease – you read one, think that’s it, and then you have to buy another. A flavour to crave.
9. Paranoia in the Laundrette by Bruce Robinson
One of the few who comes close to Wodehouse these days. This is only 40 pages long, but it’s so wonderful I bought one copy, read it, then had to go back and buy the lot for all my friends. It’s about an idiot trying to get his laundry done who thinks everyone’s trying to kill him. Very funny indeed.
10. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
About as politically incorrect as you can get, but definitely something to read if you live in London: a good, historically accurate picture of the place at the time. You also get to meet Holmes’s cleverer brother, Mycroft. Sherlock Holmes is one of the great heroes, a cocaine-addled genius. But then again, you could get cocaine in Harrods in those days.