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John Cooper Clarke: ‘I read Kerouac at 12 and figured I could improve on it’
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John Cooper Clarke: ‘I read Kerouac at 12 and figured I could improve on it’

My earliest reading memory
My earliest memories are of reading Rupert Bear, American comic books – Batman, Superman, Weird Planets, Creepy Worlds, Sinister Tales, Mad magazine, Kid Montana, Kid Colt: Outlaw and also Dick Tracy.

My favourite book growing up
The Buffalo Bill Annual, which contained the potted biographies of all the big hitters of the old west, including the titular figure himself plus Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse and Frank James, the Reno brothers, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid and more. I remember it had full-colour illustrations throughout.

The book that changed me as a teenager
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse, borrowed from my local library, with its story of a lower‑middle-class Yorkshire lad with a flamboyant imagination.

The author who made me want to be a writer
Jack Kerouac. The first time I heard the term “beatnik” was on account of Beatnik Fly, the instrumental single by Johnny and the Hurricanes. This led me to reading Kerouac’s poetry aged 12 or 13, and, rightly or wrongly, I figured I could improve on it. I took a positive lesson from a book I didn’t particularly enjoy.

The book or author I came back to
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye – it’s a great work of art. I first read it in my teens and I didn’t get it. I didn’t like the hero Holden Caulfield; he was an annoying, overprivileged brat who didn’t have a good word for anyone. I can’t believe I misunderstood it for so long. Written by a sophisticated writer in the manner of a 15-year-old, the voice of a disgruntled teenager is very clever. It’s so authentic. When I realised all of this, the scales fell from my eyes. It enjoyably revisits the American east coast sensibilities of the mid-20th century.

The book I reread
The Bible – any page will chime with what’s happening in your life. I read it whenever I am in a hotel, which is quite often. Every story, the unique language of it; every hero blots his copybook, and no one comes out of it unscathed. I also reread Rat Pack Confidential by Shawn Levy.

The book I could never read again
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

The book I discovered later in life
Against Nature (À Rebours) by JK Huysmans. It was referenced in an interview I read with Iggy Pop, and the title alone struck a chord with me. I felt it rightly belonged to me, what with my aversion to rural life. The title, however, didn’t prepare me for the rich contents therein.

The book I am currently reading
Erotic Vagrancy: Everything About Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor by Roger Lewis. It’s fabulous – everything a nosy parker would wanna know and more, in the most morbid detail.

My comfort read
Museums Without Walls by Jonathan Meades.

Source: theguardian.com