There’s something voyeuristically thrilling about knowing what other people’s reading habits are. The Reader is a brief interview inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, which was itself inspired by a 19th century party game. We ask readers, writers, publishers and book-lovers everywhere (including our own staff) to answer eleven questions about the books they love, what they have been reading and their literary habits.
We are thrilled for Kirsty Gunn who won the awards for Best Fiction and Book of the Year for her novel The Big Music at the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards.
Judge Guy Somerset said: “Gunn sets herself what for many would be impossible challenges and then meets every one of them brilliantly – not least making bagpipe compositions sound so musically and intellectually stimulating that all of us are firm converts. The book completely captures readers with a mix of compelling themes and gripping human drama.”
What are you currently reading and how did you discover the book?
I am currently reading Time on My Hands by Giorgio Vasta – a Sicilian writer who gets childhood absolutely and has written a terrifying novel about a bunch of boys descending from play to violence.
It is wonderfully written. I was sent it by my publisher at Faber ages ago when the hardback came out but I have only just got to it. I will certainly be supporting the paperback though, when it comes out.
Who are your favourite writers and what do you love about them?
That late great William Maxwell, after the death of his wife, could only read one book, War and Peace, and I know exactly what he meant. He read it for three years and then died. He didn’t want anything else. I’ve only read it four times but I know there will be many more readings as I get older.
I have the dreamy new Peavear translation, too – with all of Tolstoy’s roughness and beautiful particular literary qualities that had been smoothed out by Constance Garnett and even the Maude translation I have that Tolstoy himself approved. So I have that treat in store and of hearing more of him, next time I read it.
What books are on your bedside table?
On my bedside table is Hound Music by Rosalind Belben. I loved her Our Horses in Egypt. She is an extraordinarily confident and fine writer. Also, The Saturday Book – published by my husband – who created Union Books. It is a marvellous anthology of great writing and the perfect thing to pick up and dip into.
What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
My favourite adaptations are the films of Ingmar Bergman that were all made according to short stories he’d written. I love Bergman’s work altogether.
What books have you re-read the most and why?
I have most re-read Prelude – by Katherine Mansfield – over and over and over again. I do the same with ‘At the Bay’ but you may call that a story rather than a book – though I don’t. To me, it has all the satisfactions of longer work.
Who is your favourite literary character?
My literary heroine – Mrs Ramsay in To the Lighthouse.
What books have you always been meaning to read but still haven’t got around to?
Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities.
Which three writers would you have over for supper?
I’m not interested in cooking. We have poetry evenings – so it’s poetry rather than food, always – though my husband David cooks nice Burns suppers. So I think that my evening would be a bunch of poets – I’d love Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell and William Carlos Williams to come. That would be heavenly, actually, and I think they would love our poetry suppers.
How are your books shelved and organised at home?
My bookshelves; they’re in chaos! I used to have a perfectly ordered dewey system with a separate section for new world fiction. Then we moved from Portobello Road and I now have a room of my own to write in – magic – a study. But the books are all over the place! And when I worked on a stair at the top of the house – everything was neat.
What is your favourite literary quote?
Faulkner – “If a writer is interested in technique – let him be a bricklayer or a surgeon.”