Just last week I was chairing a literary thing with some other writers as part of the Crouch End Festival 2014 in which we were all asked to pick our Desert Island Books.

My new lit crush Louise Millar chose a book I’d never come across before, Melanie McGrath’s Motel Nirvana  and which sounds like just my kind of thing: weird goings-on in the south west of the USA, sage brush and cactus, odd-balls, diners – you get the picture. Last time I did a book thing with Millar we’d both chosen John Fante novels, so I know we share a love of American strangeness.

The highly amusing and erudite Matt Bayliss (the only person in the room to pick up on my A E Housman reference) chose the north London telephone directory (I guess you had to be there), chick lit rising star Jessica Thompson picked a book by Elizabeth Taylor (which I’m pretty sure was not the same one that was married to Richard Burton) and the charming and hard-drinking Tom Campbell chose something foreign and classy about which I can recall not a thing (reasons for which may become clearer shortly).

The whole event was a huge success and I got to talk about books and drink wine paid for by someone else (those are two of my top five markers of a successful night) and I very much hope I will be fortunate enough to get invited to host similar things in the future. It was all very civilised to begin with of course, but  ended up in the pub with me, a couple of my close friends, a woman who was a big cheese in the Crouch End Festival mafia and Campbell, drinking way too much for a Wednesday night. The big cheese sloped off early leaving me, my two friends (neither of whom appear to have much in the way of proper regular employment) and Campbell, drinking till the small hours. I have no recollection of getting home and can only hope the others managed to find their own way out of N8. The following morning I was surprised to find a smart new copy of Campbell’s new novel, The Planner, possibly a gift, possibly stolen, with some illegible scrawl on the front page, possibly from the author, possibly from some other random drunk dude, and possibly warm and affectionate, possibly abusive and obscene (honestly, I can make out only about two words of the whole dedication). Either way, I’m nearly done with it and enjoying it immensely.

And as for my own choice for the one book that I’d take if stranded on a desert island? As I said on the night, no contest: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. After around two years of reading it (it’s taken such a long time partly because it’s a big old book, partly because pretty early on I realised just how extraordinary it was and began to ration myself), I finished it the day before the event last week. As for a review?


I knew straight away that I was in no position to try and sum up such a phenomenal piece of literature: I’m just not that good a writer. So I’ve started the whole thing again. All 1079 pages. And so far, it’s even better than the first time.


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