I very, very rarely read books again. Since I plan to be buried with every tome I’ve never finished, making the decision to read something again – as much as I loved it – feels like a treat that my ever-growing pile of unread books gives me would resent. And yet there was one book I’ve read three times, not twice, since it was first published last year, and that book is The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood. Hilarious, poignant, and utterly undeniable, there is no doubt Heawood’s memoir would come with me if I were ever shipped to the coast of a deserted island.
It was with great pleasure that Sophie agreed to participate in my Desert Island Books series. After choosing an eclectic selection of books to take with her – from a festive tale to a 1794 tome – here are the eight books Sophie would take if she were stranded on a deserted island.
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Midday poems by Frank O’Hara
Frank O’Hara was working at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950s New York, and on his lunch break he strolled around town and saw Manhattan come to life in the post-war cultural explosion. He walked past the artists, past the nightclub where Billie Holiday sang, past the billboards that told of Hollywood scandals, past the burger bar where he bought a malt milk and drank everything in it. And then he went back to the gallery and tapped what he saw.
He wrote of his friends about being utterly shameful, smoking too many cigarettes, and loving someone too much. I don’t think I would be the author I am without reading this book a hundred times. That wasn’t enough, so I’ll reread it now.
I don’t know how many copies of this book I’ve bought over the years, but it’s a lot. You never know when you’re going to have a conversation with someone who might need you.
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A journey through my room by Xavier de Maistre
When locked in my bedroom with Covid, all I wanted to do was read this apart from endless online data reminding me how unlikely it was to die. If I say the book was first published in 1794, you might not have known how funny it is, but it’s a hilarious piss written by a 27 year old French soldier who spent six weeks in his Room was locked. He literally travels through his bedroom and goes into lyrical heights that are beautiful but self-deprecating. He’s also written a sequel in which he goes all the way to his windowsill. Oh come on, that’s funny.
I sometimes wonder if AA Milne read this as it feels like it was a forerunner to Winnie the Pooh. The grandeur presents itself as lightness. The mumbling and frolicking. I recently gave my godson a copy for his 14th birthday, which was maybe pretty mean of me as it’s an acquired taste. I hope he knows he doesn’t really have to read it. Though he probably should.
Buy A Journey Around My Room at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon, or Amazon AU.
The rules do not apply to Andrea Levy
This is only about 40,000 words long, half the length of most books, but you never know because it hits you like a truck. Ariel Levy works for The New Yorker and wrote an essay you may have read about a assignment to Mongolia only to lose her baby in a hotel room. This story is part of those amazing memoirs that are also about falling in love with a woman and maybe a man and wanting everything just for nothing. It made me seriously question all the wills that I and the rest of my generation have done all our fucking lives.
Buy the rules do not apply at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
My wild and sleepless nights by Clover Stroud
If I were alone on a desert island, I would like to remember what family is, and that’s why I would take this book. Clover Stroud and I have very different families – hers is large, with many marriages, many children, and many tragedies. My family is very small and has a few new lives every century, and we tend to die of old age. But, my God, the passion and violence of loving and reviling and longing for those who are related to you – Clover writes about it like no other. She is absolutely fearless in her language and even though she is a very successful contemporary writer in the UK today, I still think she is underrated. She should be treated like some kind of god.
Disgusting kinky from Esther Freud
Esther Freud greeted me once when she entered a room where I was. A life full of feelings rose in me, of things I wanted to tell her about her writing and her life and how I had felt about it. What a fan I was. How deeply had I thought about her and her worlds. The special things she said had stuck with me for decades. And who I was, that I was a writer too, a little bit of one. So I just said hello back. We are english.
Even if Hideous Kinky is the book in which, as a child, she went on the hippie trail to Morocco with her mother and sister and lived outside the boundaries of English society. Where people do other things than just say hello. Okay, it’s a novel, but it’s also her life story. Kate Winslet starred in the film of this, which never could and therefore never please me. You must read the book, but you must also be around 17 years old, live in Yorkshire and dream of North Africa.
Buy Hideous Kinky at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
Freaky Dance by Bez
Bez was in an incredible band called The Happy Mondays who were the beating heart of the Madchester scene and used 95% of their drugs. His memoirs about his time in the band are absolutely hilarious – partly because they were very funny people, but also because, as far as I know, his wife helped him write. So there will be a paragraph where he and Shaun Ryder are at a party in a New York hotel room full of hookers and cocaine and their own fame, and then the next minute he went to bed for an early night and did the rest left by them to do so. It doesn’t add up which makes it even funnier.
Buy Freaky Dancing from Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
Kurt Vonnegut’s cat cradle
Cat’s Cradle is about an invented religion called Bokononism, on a Caribbean island, where our hero arrives and becomes the unexpected leader. Satirical science fiction, I suppose – happy madness.
Kurt Vonnegut is such a comforting writer, and I would put Richard Brautigan in the same category. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about something wonderful or terrible – it’s all largely imaginary anyway, and you will be kept in the same friendly language. The same generosity of spirit to the brutal or tender of their lively, roaming heads.
Someone I don’t really know once sent me a DM on Twitter and said I write like Kurt Vonnegut. Best day of my life. The next day she wrote again that she was so embarrassed that she had been drunk the night before and hadn’t known what she was saying. I was gutted. I think she should drink more.
Buy cat cradle at Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.
Christmas on Exeter Street by Diana Hendry
Every Christmas I read this illustrated children’s book to my daughter and we enjoy it. We’ll quote it for the rest of the year. It’s the story of a woman with a sprawling old house where everyone she’s ever met has a cozy Christmas Eve. My daughter always adds up everyone who sleeps in the house – there are over thirty – and then we dream of owning such a house and all of our friends and relatives to spend Christmas in it. Sometimes, honestly, it’s all I can think of. Someday, when I need the rest of my life, I will own the house on Exeter Street and you will all be very welcome there.
Buy Christmas on Exeter Street from Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon, or Amazon AU.
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