MY BOOKS from WWI to the Year 2081 by a TV writer who “so wanted The Borrowers to be true” First lines, first books, first literary loves….and more
BY DOM SHAW, screenwriter, director, producer and novelist. I always wanted to be able to say Groucho’s line. ‘I can sing, dance, play the piano and in an emergency, move it’. But I can’t play the piano. What’s the first book you remember reading (or being read to you)? The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I so wanted it to be true.
What’s the first book that a made a big impact on you? Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut First line: ‘And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.’
What book are you reading right now? The Harlem Hellfighters – Max Brooks. A graphic novel about the Harlem soldiers who came direct from the Harlem Renaissance and were so racially abused by the US Army they were sent to bolster the French army in WW1. Some were musicians and returned to play jazz in Paris in the twenties.
And the one you read before that? I have just read Neil White’s crime novel ‘From the Shadows’. We share an agent and I have just written a TV series pitch for it. It’s about a solicitor advocate and his enquiry agent. Fingers crossed….
We all know burning books is wrong on every level. What contemporary novel (and by contemporary I mean one published in the last 30 years or so) would you put your hand in the fire to save.
Dhalgren – Samuel R Delaney. A Joycean Odyssey that I have read and re-read almost every decade since I was 15.
First line: ‘You meet a new person, you go with him and suddenly you get a whole new city…you go down new streets, you see houses you never saw before, pass places you didn’t even know were there. Everything changes.’
Same question but this time what classic would you save from the bonfire? (And you can work out your own definition of classic.) Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury. I know, bit obvious.
Favourite non fiction book? Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves
First line: ‘Cuinchy bred rats. They came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, andmultiplied exceedingly. While I stayed here with the Welsh, a new officer joined the company… When he turned in that night, he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.”
And a short story that has lived with you ever since you first read it?
Harrison Bergeron – Kurt Vonnegut
Opening: ‘The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agentsof the United States Handicapper General.’
Finally, what do you prefer: a real book with pages that move, an ebook, an audio device? I can do all of those without straining a muscle. Doesn’t matter whatformat I absorb. I am not precious about paper or phobic about tech.
And finally Dom Shaw’s novel, Eric is Awake even though he hasn’t mentioned it himself. From my review on Amazon. I was going to hate this book. I was sure of it. Orwell was a mentor: his books were on the school reading list and I read his essays as a teenager – his politics helped form my own. And I not only lived as an adult in the Islington Dom Shaw describes, but I was born in those streets. I just knew he was going to get the voice and the place wrong. I would be able to catch him out. He didn’t and I couldn’t. Shaw has captured both the studied simplicity of Orwell’s writing style and the London that hasn’t quite arrived, but is a shadow’s width from the one we know. I found this book compelling, thought provoking and uncomfortable – this was Orwell: what else could I expect?…It also happens to be a very good read. Just like Orwell.