There’s something voyeuristically thrilling about knowing what other people’s reading habits are. The Reader is a brief interview inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, which was itself inspired by a 19th century party game. We ask readers, writers, publishers and book-lovers everywhere (including our own staff) to answer eleven questions about the books they love, what they have been reading and their literary habits.
Dylan Horrocks is the author and illustrator of the classic graphic novel Hicksville, and has also written scripts for DC Comics. Incomplete Works, his new collection of shorter comics drawn between 1986 and 2012, has just been published by Victoria University Press. Horrocks spoke to Unity Books about the shelf of shame, cartoonists he admires, and which series of books makes him feel wistful and calm and in love with being alive...
What are you currently reading and how did you discover the book?
I’m currently reading five books, but the one I’m most immersed in is Lynne Segal’s Straight Sex: Rethinking the Politics of Pleasure. I’ve been reading a stack of books about sexuality, pornography and feminism – from Andrea Dworkin and Gail Dines to Tristan Taormino and Brian McNair. I stumbled across Segal’s book while browsing at Arty Bees in Wellington (visiting both Unity and Arty Bees is essential whenever I visit Wellington), which was a stroke of luck. I’d been aware of Segal back in the late 80s and early 90s, but this is the first time I’ve read her properly. I’m only a hundred pages in, but so far it’s great – one of the more complex, nuanced and humane things I’ve read on the messy relationship between politics and desire.
Who are your favourite writers and what do you love about them?
I read a lot of non-fiction. I get so much pleasure from having my mind turned inside out and upside down by a really good, smart, deeply thoughtful book. When I’m reading a book like that, it fills me with excited energy: it’s hard to sit still and I want to talk about it all the time with everyone I meet. Gitta Sereny (Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth), Rebecca Solnit (River of Shadows), David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal), Deborah Blum (Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death), Lewis Hyde (The Gift and Common as Air), John Gray (Straw Dogs) and Sallie Tisdale (Talk Dirty to Me) all write books that I still think about long after I read them. It’s as though they begin a conversation in my head that carries on indefinitely.
Cartoonists I go back to again and again include Hergé , Chester Brown, Chris Ware, Jaime Hernandez, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, Alan Moore, Dave Sim and way too many more to mention. Sometimes it’s the way they draw, sometimes it’s the stories they tell. A recent discovery that really bowled me over is Gareth Brookes’s The Black Project – a dark, funny, moving and surprisingly gentle graphic novel about an adolescent boy who builds himself a girlfriend.
In fiction, I’ve always been drawn to fantasy, even though few writers do the kind of fantasy I’m looking for; Ursula Le Guin, Jo Walton, John Crowley, Elizabeth Knox and Alan Garner are some who do. I guess what they all have in common is a willingness to dig down to the deepest roots of our desire to explore other worlds and realities.
Other writers I’ve been deeply affected by include José Saramago (Blindness), Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), Georges Perec (W), Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler), Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), and Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84). Probably my favourite author of all time, though, is Tove Jansson. Her Moomin books hold a very special place in my heart. They’re funny, lyrical, whimsical, sad, joyful and utterly breathtakingly beautiful!
What books are on your bedside table?
Actually, they’re stacked against the wall beside the bed, because there are too many to fit on the table. And some are in my Kindle.
Right now there’s:
Ellen Forney – Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me
Ruth Rosen – The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America
Brian McNair – Porno? Chic! How Pornography Changed the World and Made it a Better Place
Jon Peterson – Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventure from Chess to Role-Playing Games
Jane Gerhard – Desiring Revolution: Second Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual Thought, 1920 to 1982
Stephen Kelman – Pigeon English
Alan Watts – The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who you Are
And a bunch of others. But those are the ones I’m either part way through or about to read.
What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (directed by Michael Winterbottom).
Many of the book to film adaptations I love are extremely loose adaptations (e.g. Apocalypse Now – inspired by Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) or are based on novels I’ve never read and have no particular desire to read (e.g. The Shining, Planet of the Apes, The Godfather). Although I’m also a big fan of Pride and Prejudice, both the book and the BBC adaptation.
What books have you re-read the most and why?
The Lord of the Rings – because it rewired my brain when I was 12 or 13 and I find something new whenever I re-read it. Well, I’ve only re-read it three times, but each time I do, it turns into a different book.
Tintin – as a cartoonist, the Tintin books are pretty much my bible.
The Moomin books – because they make me feel wistful and calm and in love with being alive.
Who is your favourite literary character?
That would be a tie between Captain Haddock, Bilbo Baggins and pretty much every character in the Moomin books.
What books have you always been meaning to read but still haven’t got around to?
Oh god – the shelf of shame. Books that remind us of our looming mortality, that we’ll never have time to read them all. Sigh…
Most of them.
Austerlitz and On the Natural History of Destruction – W.G. Sebald
Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination – Peter Ackroyd
Landscape and Memory – Simon Schama
And everything by Borges, Georges Perec and Gene Wolfe.
Which three writers would you have over for supper?
Tove Jansson, J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin. But two of those are dead, so it would probably be a pretty grim meal.
How are your books shelved and organised at home?
Utterly chaotically. I used to have them fairly well organised by category and author, but we moved house two years ago, and I still haven’t had time to sort them out. As a result, I often wish bookshelves had a search function.
What is your favourite literary quote?
I always thought this was Somerset Maugham, but the internet informs me it’s never been properly attributed and is more likely to have been Faulkner. But whoever said it, this is one of the wisest things I’ve ever read about writing:
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”