Fatima Bhutto: ‘David Foster Wallace on David Lynch is pretty funny’

The novelist on admiring Maggie Nelson and Rachel Kushner, and being irritated by William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

The book I am currently reading
A preview copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, whose poetry is so beautiful. I was lucky enough to get a galley of his first novel which I’ve just started.

The book that changed my life
I was 18 years old and about to head to university when I read Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. I had felt torn between a pull towards politics and a love for books and the written word. I remember suddenly understanding that there was almost no distance between the two.

The book I wish I’d written
Any of Rachel Kushner’s novels. She is a delight for a reader, constantly wrong-footing and surprising you. She has an unsparing, brutal eye. I love her.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
I think each book brings its own influences. I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road a month or two before I thought of The Runaways. McCarthy’s book moved and disturbed me so deeply, I think that’s why I chose to have Monty and Sunny on a march through the novel. The other book that was vital for me during this process was VS Naipaul’s In a Free State, specifically the novella about a pair who can’t stand each other forced into a road trip.

The book that is most under/overrated
The most underrated books I read in the past year are Bluets by Maggie Nelson, a beautiful meditation on the colour blue, loneliness and love, and Sunjeev Sahota’s Ours Are the Streets. I try to practise the Hippocratic oath with books (unless they’re offensive) so I won’t say very much except that I am not a big Elena Ferrante reader.

The book that changed my mind
Every book alters something about what you thought you knew about the world. Every good book, at least.

The last book that made me cry
Hisham Matar’s The Return, specifically the passage that begins: “The fathers must have known, having once themselves been sons, that the ghostly presence of their hands will remain throughout the years, to the end of time …”

The last book that made me laugh
When in French by Lauren Collins. And I recently reread David Foster Wallace’s essay about the director David Lynch, David Lynch Keeps His Head, which is also pretty funny.

The book I couldn’t finish
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. What on earth was happening there? I was irritated enough to give up after that first incomprehensible section.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. It’s been on my list for a while but I think certain books don’t spark for you if you read them before you’re meant to.

My earliest reading memory
My father, Murtaza, used to read to me when I was a child, with accents, voices, the works. He took me to the library for the first time, which was in my school. He treated the occasion like a pilgrimage, like we were embarking on something holy. I chose a small book and sat in a corner on the floor of the Damascus Community School library to read. He sat on a chair somewhere and read the newspaper till I finished.

My comfort read
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.

The book I give as a gift
Héctor Abad’s Oblivion. When this book came out I spoke about it so much, Héctor got in touch with me (not to tell me to stop) and we are now friends.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
The Runaways. You lose yourself in any book, but this one has my heart.

The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto is published by Viking (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Fatima Bhutto

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