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DBC Pierre: ‘A memoir by American televangelists changed my mind on taste’ | DBC Pierre

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My earliest reading memory
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton was my first book without pictures; I was seven, at school in England. What hooked me was a concept: a ladder poked through the clouds at the top of a tree. Above was a world where laws and norms were different, where you could cavort like an innocent – but after a time, an unsettled wind blew in and swept the land away. I still find this describes our passage through seasons of life.

My favourite book growing up
One that strangely haunted me was Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. The mix of delusion and family dysfunction was compelling. By way of salute, the boy in my novel Vernon God Little namechecks the play’s Studebaker as his life spins out of control.

The book that changed me as a teenager
At around 12 I bought a book for its good value; the object itself was beautiful, and a bargain. It turned out to be Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall – and the timing of its appearance, when I finally started reading it, seemed to chime with the orbits of people, the recurrences and rises and falls I was beginning to see all around.

The writer who changed my mind
I can’t find this book, the writers have since been disgraced – but in my 20s a friend gave me a memoir by American televangelists as a joke. They recounted a miracle whereby an expensive mobile home came into their possession after they expressed a wish to their congregation. I found the book mesmeric, not for the contents but for the authors’ utter self-belief and lack of irony. It changed my mind on distinction and taste; we would laud any novelist who could describe these characters, and here they were speaking for themselves. High art.

The book that made me want to be a writer
Not a single book: every one threw a lever of some kind. I can say the one I wished I had written when I read it in my teens was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, for its ability to snatch the truth from thin air.

The book I came back to
By my late teens I thought philosophy must be the key to everything. I thought Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy would be a good primer, but part way through it felt less like a history of philosophy than a history of what Russell thought of everyone. I’ve since attempted to finish again but had Russell fatigue by halfway.

The book I reread
I first read the Devil’s Island memoir, Papillon by Henri Charrière, during hard times. Its unsinkable spirit was an escape and a therapy, and whenever the going got tough I read it again. I recommend it for anyone trapped on their own Devil’s Island.

The book I could never read again
I loved The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Its idea – that a person could consign every decision to a roll of the dice – was so big that the writing didn’t matter, I can’t even remember if it was well written. The idea was the gift and I’ve no need to go back.

The book I discovered later in life
Kafka, The Trial. I managed to sidestep this throughout my youth, as one of those books already spoiled by mass discussion. When I finally read it I reflected that many things do seem to have their “right time”.

The book I am currently reading
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – just to work out why Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan hung out with her so much. It all becomes clear in chapter one.

My comfort read
Currently, The Grey Seas Under by Farley Mowat. I’ve got a thing about the sea, and this is some of the brightest marine writing I’ve seen. Writing about waves is as much of an art as painting them.


My earliest reading memory
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton was my first book without pictures; I was seven, at school in England. What hooked me was a concept: a ladder poked through the clouds at the top of a tree. Above was a world where laws and norms were different, where you could cavort like an innocent – but after a time, an unsettled wind blew in and swept the land away. I still find this describes our passage through seasons of life.

My favourite book growing up
One that strangely haunted me was Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. The mix of delusion and family dysfunction was compelling. By way of salute, the boy in my novel Vernon God Little namechecks the play’s Studebaker as his life spins out of control.

The book that changed me as a teenager
At around 12 I bought a book for its good value; the object itself was beautiful, and a bargain. It turned out to be Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall – and the timing of its appearance, when I finally started reading it, seemed to chime with the orbits of people, the recurrences and rises and falls I was beginning to see all around.

The writer who changed my mind
I can’t find this book, the writers have since been disgraced – but in my 20s a friend gave me a memoir by American televangelists as a joke. They recounted a miracle whereby an expensive mobile home came into their possession after they expressed a wish to their congregation. I found the book mesmeric, not for the contents but for the authors’ utter self-belief and lack of irony. It changed my mind on distinction and taste; we would laud any novelist who could describe these characters, and here they were speaking for themselves. High art.

The book that made me want to be a writer
Not a single book: every one threw a lever of some kind. I can say the one I wished I had written when I read it in my teens was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, for its ability to snatch the truth from thin air.

The book I came back to
By my late teens I thought philosophy must be the key to everything. I thought Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy would be a good primer, but part way through it felt less like a history of philosophy than a history of what Russell thought of everyone. I’ve since attempted to finish again but had Russell fatigue by halfway.

The book I reread
I first read the Devil’s Island memoir, Papillon by Henri Charrière, during hard times. Its unsinkable spirit was an escape and a therapy, and whenever the going got tough I read it again. I recommend it for anyone trapped on their own Devil’s Island.

The book I could never read again
I loved The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Its idea – that a person could consign every decision to a roll of the dice – was so big that the writing didn’t matter, I can’t even remember if it was well written. The idea was the gift and I’ve no need to go back.

The book I discovered later in life
Kafka, The Trial. I managed to sidestep this throughout my youth, as one of those books already spoiled by mass discussion. When I finally read it I reflected that many things do seem to have their “right time”.

The book I am currently reading
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – just to work out why Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan hung out with her so much. It all becomes clear in chapter one.

My comfort read
Currently, The Grey Seas Under by Farley Mowat. I’ve got a thing about the sea, and this is some of the brightest marine writing I’ve seen. Writing about waves is as much of an art as painting them.

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