The book I am currently reading
I’m having a lovely time with Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour. He is such a tender writer, the book is a magical encounter with birds and fathers.
The book that changed my life
James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson. It made me realise a person could drink three bottles of wine a day and still write a wonderful book.
The book I wish I’d written
Libra by Don DeLillo. So perfectly pitched, so risky and so true, despite Lee Harvey Oswald’s world being a miasma of untruths.
The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
I date my real interest in literature to my discovery of Wallace Stevens. His Collected Poems is a miraculous thesis on reality and imagination.
The book that is most overrated
The Bible. There are some nice sentences, each of them tangled in a thicket of abject baloney.
The book that changed my mind
The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud.
The last book that made me cry
The accumulation of egotism and carelessness in one life can leave you blubbing – the mysterious depth of the idiocy. Just seeing the author’s face can bring a lump to your throat and make you cry for your mammy. In this category, a recent winner is For the Record by David Cameron.
The last book that made me laugh
Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told? by the late Jenny Diski. A volume of pieces she wrote for the London Review of Books, it reminds you of what a genius she was, and what a comic engine she had. Jenny believed in things, but never too much, and she understood the true meaning of a writer’s freedom: that you are nobody’s mouthpiece, not even your own, if you’re writing well.
The book I couldn’t finish
Morrissey’s novel, List of the Lost. There’s only so much disillusionment a person can take, and it was dismaying to see how little he cared for language, or self-parody, or any of the things that made him a hero of my youth.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I don’t go in for shame, but I should’ve read Iris Murdoch.
The book I give as a gift
You’ve got to stand up for the poets. And for change. So I’m giving out copies of Homie by Danez Smith to anybody who looks at me twice.
My earliest reading memory
Books were banned in our house – too untidy – so I used to scoff the ones at primary school as if they were turkish delight. I formed, at an early age, a great attachment to a book called Dick, Dora, Nip and Fluff. It was quite sexist, if I remember correctly, and species-ist, but it taught me a lot about toothbrushing.
My comfort read
Robert Louis Stevenson. If you’re tired, or feeling sorry for yourself, you can read any paragraph and feel instantly better. His sentences are a tonic, proving that literary style, whatever else it might be, is a distillation of human spirit. Stevenson can touch on any subject, in any period – regardless of how small, or specialised, or personal – and bring it to light with the same degree of felicity and joy.
• Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan is published by Faber.