Joe Dunthorne: ‘On the Road takes longer to read than it did to write’

The Welsh writer on why you can’t trust Jack Kerouac, paying homage to Don DeLillo, and the ‘weird and witty’ Jane Bowles novel that remains underrated

The book I am currently reading
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. Precise, uncanny stories from a unique voice.

The book that changed my life
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Until I read this, I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with someone who doesn’t exist. It made me a reader.

The book I wish I’d written
White Noise by Don DeLillo. For my taste, it’s the perfect balance of humour, plot and ideas.

The book that influenced my writing
See last answer. My new novel, The Adulterants, has a central set piece that is a homage to the “Airborne Toxic Event” chapter in White Noise. I wanted to write a chapter that starts small – at a picnic, in my version – and keeps building and building until the world is in flames.

The book that is most overrated
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. How can you trust a novel that takes longer to read than it took to write?

The book that is most underrated
Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles. It’s a weird and witty masterpiece about two women rejecting bourgeois comfort in pursuit of joyous – even righteous – dissolution.

The last book that made me cry
Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich. An incredible book of interviews with those directly affected by the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Intimate, unsentimental and absolutely crushing.

The last book that made me laugh
I recently read, for the second time, The Ask by Sam Lipsyte. I can’t think of a funnier, more enjoyable modern novel.

The book I couldn’t finish
I give up on books all the time. In only the last few months, I’ve given up on The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien and Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith. I just put them down and never think about them again. It’s exhilarating.

The book I give as a gift
I have written a poem about always giving Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald as a gift. But, in truth, the book I most often give is Two Serious Ladies.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
I think I’d like to be remembered for my poems. Novels always, inevitably feel imperfect – there are so many words to get wrong! – but when writing poems there are occasional moments when I think every letter is in the right place.

My earliest reading memory
Age six or so, I remember loving the jokes in a rapidly disintegrating copy of The Ha Ha Bonk Book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, then passing them off as my own. What did the earwig say as he fell off the wall? Earwig go again.

My comfort read
Actual Air by David Berman and, specifically, the first poem: “Snow”.

• Joe Dunthorne is the author of The Adulterants and Submarine.

Contributor

Joe Dunthorne

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
David Nicholls: 'Gifting books feels like changing the music at someone else’s party'
The author and screenwriter on being inspired by Tess of the D’Urbervilles, feeling gloomy over Moomins and rereading Franny and Zooey

David Nicholls

10, Aug, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Sally Rooney: 'I want the next thing I do to be the best thing I’ve ever done'
The Normal People author on the joy of Jeeves and the influence of JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey

Sally Rooney

17, Apr, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Struggling to read, or write? How to be creative in lockdown
Are you finding it hard to concentrate, or don’t know where to start? Michael Frayn, Marian Keyes, Richard Osman and more share their tips

Richard Osman, Marian Keyes, Kerry Hudson, Michael Frayn ,Sara Collins, Jessie Burton, Kit de Waal and Joe Dunthorne

02, May, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Joe Dunthorne on Swansea: ‘At night I would be woken by the screech of stolen cars’
The author recalls joyriders, smokestacks and empty beaches, in a city with a cracked personality

Joe Dunthorne

16, Mar, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne review – brilliantly knowing
The 2011 London riots form the backdrop to a comedy about millennial angst and rampaging house prices

Toby Litt

02, Feb, 2018 @7:30 AM

Article image
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich review – for ‘filth’ read truth
The Nobel prize-winner’s astonishing oral history of the experience of Russian woman during the second world war finally appears uncensored

Caroline Moorehead

02, Aug, 2017 @7:59 AM

Author, author: Joe Dunthorne

'Many of the young people who come through our secret door really struggle with writing and reading but, when they go home as published authors – holding a book with their name on the cover, about a monster they have invented – their outlooks are thoroughly changed'

Joe Dunthorne

27, Nov, 2010 @12:08 AM

Article image
Author, author: Joe Dunthorne

Author, author: Joe Dunthorne on watching his novel Submarine being adpated for the big screen

Joe Dunthorne

05, Mar, 2011 @12:07 AM

Article image
AM Homes: ‘My comfort read? All the President’s Men’
The American author on the Margaret Atwood novel that makes her laugh, how John Cheever changed her life, and being unable to finish Infinite Jest

AM Homes

29, Jun, 2018 @12:17 PM

Article image
David Peace: ‘My comfort read? Old Labour party manifestos’
The novelist on the brilliance of Bulgakov, the Japanese short story that changed him, and wanting to live in Pogles’ Wood

David Peace

30, Jul, 2021 @9:00 AM