The book I am currently reading
Inventory by the Derry writer Darran Anderson in manuscript – it’s due next year. It’s a family memoir and a portrait of a city and many other things, and it will cause a stir. A fabulous piece of work. Also Aug 9 – Fog by Kathryn Scanlan, an adaptation of an actual, found diary, has had me pawing at the floor like an excited little dog.
The book that changed my life
I remember wandering around the city of Verona in my mid 20s tearfully clutching a copy of Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and rereading passages over and over, and just getting a view of the mountain, really.
The book that had the greatest influence on me
I suppose it has to be the book I return to most frequently, which is most likely Saul Bellow’s Herzog. I value it for the intensity of its comic mania (it’s the great crack-up novel) and its super-glamorous sentences.
The book I think is most underrated
Conundrum by Jan Morris, her 1974 memoir about transitioning from James. It remains one of the best things written on the trans experience and it’s astonishing that it’s not more frequently mentioned now.
The book that changed my mind
Despite our slobbering addiction to our phones and the constant whining noise of the online world, I’d convinced myself we were going to be fine … then I reread Elizabeth Hardwick’s Collected Essays, and now I believe we’ve been destroyed. This is what pre-internet intelligence looks like – deep rather than broad, scathing, outward-looking, funny and ruthlessly focused.
The last book that made me cry
It’s not generally good books that make me cry. But a VS Pritchett story can make me cry, when he demonstrates the very many ways in which the heart can be broken. And Eavan Boland’s Great Famine poem “Quarantine” makes me cry.
The last book that made me laugh
Nicola Barker always makes me laugh, and her new one, I Am Sovereign, is one of her funniest yet, which is saying something. Of course the best comic stuff always has a dark, dark undertow, and so it is with Ms Barker.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I don’t generally allow shame into my reading life, but there is mild remorse that I’ve never got through Gravity’s Rainbow. It’s not the length, for I’ve gladly gone longer with Thomas Pynchon – I devoured Mason & Dixon, which is a masterpiece.
The book I give as a gift
I find the practice dictatorial and showy – look how smart and tasteful I am! – and generally give good old-fashioned book tokens.
The book I’d most like to be remembered for
The next one, always the next one – you have to believe that the earth-shattering masterpiece is just around the corner, or else you’d give up, wouldn’t you? (Alternatively, my Collected Stories.)
My earliest reading memory
Military history! A Ladybird book on the second world war, which I loved so much I had it off by heart. I used to stand on a chair and recite reams of it for the family. That they didn’t put me out with the bins was a miracle.
My comfort read
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, who is a goddess, and who reminds us of the truly important things. Or some vintage period Elmore Leonard (mid 70s to early 80s) for its slash and jive and swish.
• Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier (Canongate) has been longlisted for the Booker prize.