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.


Joe Dunthorne

The GuardianTramp

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