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Hari Kunzru: ‘I am just as enchanted by The Great Gatsby now as when I first read it as an A-level student’

Hari Kunzru: ‘I am just as enchanted by The Great Gatsby now as when I first read it as an A-level student’

My earliest reading memory
I remember reading Roald Dahl and Diana Wynne Jones and, in particular, I remember my parents leaving all the volumes of CS Lewis’s Narnia series on my bed. But what came before that? I must have had picture books. Babar was around, certainly. So was Noggin the Nog. I have no clear memory.

My favourite book growing up
JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I craved escape, and it was a long enough book to live inside for weeks at a time.

The book that changed me as a teenager
Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land had a profound effect on me. It’s essentially a version of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot with a young man raised by Martians as the observer – and eventual victim – of the world’s follies. I liked novels about soulful, misunderstood outsiders.

The writer who changed my mind
Writers are always doing that.

The book that made me want to be a writer
I must have “decided to be a writer” at some point, but I can’t remember when that was. If a book is really good, it makes me want to write. It’s an aesthetic gut instinct – if I feel a mixture of pleasure and excitement and confrontation, salted with a little jealousy, then I’m reading a really good book.

The book or author I came back to
I recently discovered the brilliance of Anita Brookner, a writer I dismissed when I was younger as cramped and conservative. Reading her, after a few contemporary novels by younger writers, is a relief – you’re talking to a grown-up, someone worldly and experienced who has weaned themselves off melodrama.

The book I reread
I never used to reread. Then I started teaching and had to think of books I cared about enough to want to discuss with students. Now I reread a lot. I’ve discovered that if I pick up more or less anything I read before I was 30, it’s as if I’m reading it for the first time. It’s odd – the more I read, the less I feel I’ve read. The last “classic” I reread was F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which is one of those “over-familiar” books it has become fashionable to dismiss. I was, I think, just as enchanted by Gatsby’s forlorn love for Daisy as when I first read it as an A-level student.

The book I could never read again
A lot of science fiction would come into that category.

The book I am currently reading
I’m always reading too many things at the same time. Right now that list includes the Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, Devika Rege’s first novel Quarterlife, Death’s End, the third part of Cixin Liu’s Three Body trilogy and a theory book by Maya B Kronic and Amy Ireland called Cute Accelerationism.

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My comfort read
Emile Zola’s 20-volume Rougon Macquart sequence, which I’ve been working my way through over the last couple of years. Sixteen down, four to go. Big set pieces, lots of social detail. It’s a sort of baseline for what a novel can do.

Source: theguardian.com