Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Book Wot Changed My Life

The Sunday Tribune was kind enough to ask me what book changed my life, and kinder still to run my answer in Sunday’s edition, the opening gambit running thusly:
“In the very first paragraph of THE BIG SLEEP, there’s a line that runs, ‘I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.’ I’d been a voracious reader all my life but when I read that line for the first time, at the age of 21, I felt like I’d come home. At the time, I was a student in Coleraine University, studying film. I had to write an essay on The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart. The university library didn’t have a copy, but the bookshop did. I was broke, paying my way through college by working whatever shifts I could get as a barman, but when I read that line I couldn’t resist: I stole.”
  Over to you, folks – what one book changed your life?


fatmammycat said...

Without a doubt Joseph Wambaugh's The Choirboys. I laughed, cried and thought about it endlessly. I read it at least once a year and every time I do I find something new to coo over.

Uriah Robinson said...

As a teenager a birthday present of Sir Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples changed my life. It was a special abridged edition with just the chapters about the American Civil War and it made me a lifelong Civil War bore and anorak.
My wife wishes I had never been given it because I have dragged her round Civil War sites from Fort Fisher to Fort Donelson and from Gettysburg to Shiloh.

I don't remember Chandler being rated as an author during my years at his alma mater Dulwich College. He had blotted his copybook by going to Hollywood, just as P.G.Wodehouse had by broadcasting from Nazi occupied Europe.
We were required to read another Old Alleynian, C.S.Forester.

maxine said...

Cannery Row, which I have re-read recently, changed my life as a child in England. There were people who lived in pipes! On the beach! Who spent their lives living in a shack and collecting specimens from rock pools!

I'd still like to do it, but here I am with 2.4 children, a mortgage and a commute.

John McFetridge said...

It's such a cliche in crime fiction circles these days, but it really was Elmore Leonard's SWAG.

It was the first time I'd ever read a book filled with people I knew, who talked like people I knew. The late 70's and I'd gone to Alberta to find work. I had an uncle who out of jail in Nova Scotia and also went to Alberta - he was Stick. I got a job at an auto parts warehouse and the salesman was Frank.

Then I got involved in some burglary and got arrested and met a lot more characters.

A couple years later I was back in Montreal and playing in a band and the drummer was reading SWAG - he said I might like it.

It was the first time I'd ever read a book filled with people who had the same attitudes as people I knew, spoke the same, looked at the world the same way. And it was also the way there's no author's voice, no guy using big words to 'explain' the characters, the whole thing is in their voices. That was really a new thing for me.

It's good to see it more often these days, the characters telling their own stories (insert plug for The Big O here).

bookwitch said...

Stole? Bad boy.

Maxine - what's your .4 child like? Photo?

Gerard Brennan said...

Probably Bateman's Divorcing Jack. It was the first NI Crime Fiction book I ever read. Before then I was a Stephen King junky.


Martin Edwards said...

Catch-22 was the one for me. A masterpiece, still brilliant to read bits of it - picked almost at random - thirty plus years later.

Declan Burke said...

Y'know, if I was totally honest about this? I should probably say FIVE GO DOWN TO THE SEA. Cheers, Dec

Diane Lawlis said...

"The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milam Kundera is probably the only book I've read every single word because I think every single word is that delibrate and important to the story.

Uiscebot said...

Chandler rocked my world when I started reading him at 25. But the book that probably changed my life was 1984, I'll never trust anybody, ever again.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

I'd have to pick two: THE UNDERGROUND MAN, by Ross Macdonald (the first genuine detective novel I remember reading), and LONESOME DOVE, a historical western by Larry McMurtry that still stands as one of my favorite works of all time.