Melissa Harrison: ‘White Noise by Don DeLillo makes me lose the will to live’

Book News

The Guardian / Book News 12 Views comments

The book I am currently reading
Isabella Tree’s Wilding, the story of how nature came back to a Sussex farm. It’s the kind of book that can transform your entire understanding of the natural world.

The book that changed my life
A Gleaming Landscape: A Hundred Years of the Guardian’s Country Diary. When I was living in London and craving contact with nature, that column was a lifeline – and an inspiration. The collection came out in 2006, when nature writing was just getting ready to explode.

The book I wish I’d written
Max Porter’s Lanny. If I didn’t like him so much I’d be furious with him for being so teeth-grindingly good.

The book that influenced me
A Black Fox Running by Brian Carter. I read and reread it as a child until its rhythms – and its vision – became a part of me. I’m so proud to have helped bring about a new edition, which is now working its magic on a new generation of readers.

The book that is most underrated
Amy Sackville’s Painter to the King took my breath away. In form and style it’s a masterpiece; it should have won all the prizes going.

The book that changed my mind
The Progressive Patriot by Billy Bragg. Until I read it, my love of this country had sat a little uncomfortably alongside my politics. Learning more about our rich tradition of radicalism gave me a way to be proud of my national identity, which helped a great deal as I wrote All Among the Barley.

The last book that made me cry
Amy Bloom’s fictionalised account of the love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, White Houses. I lived entirely inside that world while I was reading it and cried helplessly at the end.

The last book that made me laugh
Another Planet by Tracey Thorn, a poignant, often hilarious account of growing up in suburbia. My teenage years in commuter-belt Surrey, although they came little later, were similar in all sorts of respects.

The book I couldn’t finish
White Noise by Don DeLillo. I know it’s supposed to be a candidate for the Great (read: straight, white and male) American Novel, but however many times I try, it somehow makes me lose the will to live.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve read or haven’t read; books aren’t homework. People are always telling me I must read this or that – usually books about nature, or about farming in the interwar years. I’m sure they’re right, but if I did I wouldn’t have time to write any more of my own!

The book I give as a gift
Wilding to nature lovers; Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel to everyone else. I’ve never read anything like it, and don’t expect to ever again.

My earliest reading memory
My mum taught all six of us children to read and write before we went to school, using a big scrapbook of beautifully drawn letters she had illustrated herself as a young woman. When I was six or seven I scribbled wantonly on some of the pages, and the shame of it still haunts me.

My comfort reading
I’ve returned to A Black Fox Running at many difficult points in my life. But if I could reread something for pleasure, right now, it would be Paul Scott’s alluring, devastating portrait of the world my mum was born into and never quite left, the Raj Quartet.

Melissa Harrison’s most recent novel, All Among the Barley (Bloomsbury, £8.99), is the UK winner of the 2019 European Union prize for literature. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p on all online orders over £15.

Comments