Hanif Kureishi: “Racism drives people crazy – it needs to be talked about in fiction” | Books


My first memory of reading
I remember lying on my parents’ bed and reading a book cover to cover for the first time. Whether it was Biggles, Bunter or something from Enid Blyton, I was hooked. I started going to the library every day, and since then I can barely go an hour without rolling my eyes over one sentence or another. Reading has become a habit, but it has never ceased to be a pleasure.

My favorite book growing up
My father had an excellent library of political and philosophical works, that’s where I received my education, as far as I have. But it was Tom Sawyer who captivated me from his brilliant first page. Twain’s energetic and random story of an out-of-control kid and his various scrapes and adventures helped shape my first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia.

the book that amended me like a teenager
To Sir, With Love by ER Braithwaite is the first book I read about race and schools in Britain. I already knew how mad and aggressive racial difference made people, and that helped me begin to understand that issues of race would be central to the post-war Western world; I saw that it was possible and necessary to deal with this in fiction.

The writer who changed my mind
I was reading philosophy in college when I saw that, as part of our course, Richard Wollheim would lecture on Freud, despite the fact that Freud was despised if not refuted by many philosophers. I then read Wollheim’s lucid introduction to Freud published in the brilliant Fontana Modern Masters series. Philosophy was fascinating but dry, and Freud suddenly made me think of sexuality, censorship, dreams, the unconscious and language. Even then, in the 1970s, people were saying that Freud was fake and outdated. While these critiques are now forgotten, Freud’s work continues to be relevant and explored.

The book that made me want to be a writer
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, as well as Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, made me realize that it was possible to write books that could be as inspiring, truthful and direct as pop music, but with more depth and substance. And with good jokes and better stories. The individual voices of these writers helped me see that it is tone and character rather than plot that can lead to a readable novel.

The book that I read

I return several times to the Swann in Love section of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, where two characters – the aristocrat Charles Swann and his popular lover Odette de Crécy, clearly unsuited to each other – get lost in a spiral of recognizable jealousy, obsession and paranoia. If love and desire can drive us completely crazy, it is unfortunately what we crave the most and cannot do without.

The Book I Could Never Read Again
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was a favorite of my friends and I in the late 70s, and we read passages of his fast-paced, flowing prose to each other while sitting cross-legged on cushions drinking wine. . I remember it as a wonderful book about escape, freedom, and an open future, and I have no desire to find out that it was, in fact, as Truman Capote said, than “typing”.

The book I discovered later in life
Once Upon a Time by My Favorite Uncle, Omar Kureishi, which tells the story of the large – 12 children – Kureishi family living in exotic privilege in India just before World War II. Under the guidance of a tyrannical but gambling-loving father with a fondness for Parsee women and fancy cars, the brothers have many adventures on trains, in cafes, at parties and playing cricket in Poona and Bombay. (now Mumbai). Nonetheless, as Kureishi explains, the central character will always be the British Raj, and soon the family will split up and expand, living everywhere but never again in India.

My comfort read
When I’m feeling gloomy or pessimistic, the book that reminds me that change and optimism are possible is Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, a wise and witty essay that advocates both equality and indolence, and seems to believe that you cannot have one without the other. And: “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is the original virtue of man. It is by disobedience that progress has been made, by disobedience and by rebellion. Genius.

The book I am currently reading
I’m really relishing Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor, which is about a shape-shifting boy/girl loafer as they move through a crazy 1990s scene of leather bars, dyke clubs and of punks. With whips of sex, music, and clothes, it’s dirty, sharp, and smart. What’s not to like?


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