Lucy Ellmann: ‘I wooed my husband with Thomas Bernhard’s Concrete’
The book I am currently reading
I like to have more than one book on the go but got on a train to the continent this summer, travelling so light I forgot to bring any book at all! A reissued 1950s anthology was my desperate solution at a bookstore in the Gare Montparnasse. Short stories sure have changed. These seem pretty fusty, and prone to annoying plot twists right at the end. The only story I’ve really liked so far is Frank O’Connor’s “The Man of the House”, about a boy who drinks his sick mother’s medicine after walking all the way to Cork to collect it for her. Luckily, I knew Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote was awaiting me at my destination. Now, that’s a fun book.
The book that changed my life
Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. It’s not well written and it’s highly repetitive but it did open up for me a whole new subversive 60s world. I still find it amusing, outrageous and gutsy.
The book I wish I’d written
SCUM Manifesto. And Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
The book that influenced my writing
Every book I ever read – except, I hope, Hot Rod by Henry Gregor Felsen and White Fang by Jack London.
The book I think is most overrated/underrated
Overrated: all crime fiction, I don’t care who it’s by. Underrated: Philip Roth’s memoir Patrimony. It’s not talked about enough.
The book I give as a gift
Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. As a child I used to hide under the covers with these tiny books. They seemed all the library I needed. One features a threatening lion; another’s just about chicken soup with rice in it. Confession: I wooed my husband with Thomas Bernhard’s Concrete. Woodcutters might have been the better choice (it’s his best, I think), but Concrete did the trick.
The book that changed my mind
The Story of V by Catherine Blackledge. It turns out the female orgasm is the biggest news on the planet. News that stays news.
The last book that made me cry
Dorothy Whipple’s egregious The Priory. It’s easy to make readers weep over a dying baby, and that’s why she did it.
The last book that made me laugh
Alex Pheby’s Lucia. His discourse on the tapeworm had me fainting with revulsion and awe. (But oh God, I read that a year ago! Have I not laughed since?)
The book I couldn’t finish
If I start, I finish. Unless I lose it. I lost Gone With the Wind when I was 13, which is just as well.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. It seems so relevant to our times! What with the last remnants of civilisation crumbling all around us. I’ve kept these volumes handy for years but somehow I never seem to get around to reading them.
My earliest reading memory
Not good. I was way behind my class and my father had to give me emergency reading lessons at home: me sullen, him impatient. I assume we read Dick and Jane. I later graduated to The Cat in the Hat, Babar, and Madeline.
My comfort reading
“Comfort read” is a demeaning term, kind of like “cuppa” or “undies” or “jacket potato”. I’m comforted by good writing: Jane Austen, Laurence Sterne, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Thomas Hardy, Vladimir Nabokov, Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Molly Keane and J ...
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