Imagine this. An email, late one winter afternoon, asks if you’d be happy to receive two large boxfuls of brand new debut novels, and if you’d read them in return for what, on any view, would be described as a fair fee. Finding no reason to refuse (who would?) you accept. The deliveries arrive and the readathon begins.
My copy of David Mamet’s ‘Three Uses of the Knife’ is underlined in places, and certain pages are folded over. Sometimes when I go to take it down from the shelf, I feel like a cross-country skier reaching for wax. But rather than functioning as a piece of kit, it’s a book that answers questions about writing: it doesn’t so much tell you how it’s done, as why.
I like how he explains our need for stories: ‘Children jump around at the end of the day to expend the last of that day’s energy. The adult equivalent, when the sun goes down, is to create or witness drama – which is to say to order the universe into a comprehensible form.’
In her memoir, ‘What Language Do I Dream In?’ Elena Lappin recounts the tale of a novel being returned to her, years after she and her family had left behind their home in Prague.
I’ll leave you to read the story in its entirety (and if you’ve not already done so, would urge you to seek out the memoir) but I can tell you of my excitement on learning of Lappin’s ‘slim paperback with a shiny red, blue and white cover…’ slipping from its envelope, and my surprise at the twist borne by its blue-inked inscription, added to the title page by her brother. She says of the experience, ‘I was speechless.’
To mark the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the relaunch of Vintage Classics, my publisher has invited each of its authors to select their 5 favourite books from the catalogue. The wonderful promise made in return is: ‘Whenever you press your copy into a friend’s hands or find it has wandered off your shelf onto someone…