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

The book I am currently reading
Margaret Drabble’s 1972 novel The Needle’s Eye. This is only the third of Drabble’s books I’ve read, and I’ve admired them all. I’m living in a fairly remote rural area at the moment with no internet access, and now that the bookshops are closed, I’m working through my accumulated back catalogue of unread novels.

The book that changed my life
I think all my favourite books have changed my life in one way or another. Last year, Emmanuel Carrère’s book The Kingdom (translated by John Lambert) set me off on a path of reading and thinking that I’m not sure I would have ventured down otherwise.

The book I wish Id written
I don’t tend to wish I had written other people’s books. It would take the fun out of being a reader. I would like to write something as good as James Joyce’s Ulysses, for sure, but I don’t think I want to have written Ulysses itself, no.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
The honest answer is probably JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. I read it maybe once too often in my youth.

The book that is most underrated
It would not be exactly correct to call the Gospels underrated, but I often think people are not as familiar with those interesting texts as they might presume themselves to be.

The book that changed my mind
It’s a sad truth about my mind that it is a very hard thing to change. Lots of books have introduced me to new information and new ways of thinking, but I can’t remember one that has really reversed my opinion on anything. I’m sorry to say that if I thought a book had a chance of changing my mind, I suspect I might not read it.

Tom and Maggie in the flood in The Mill on the Floss.
Tom and Maggie in the flood in The Mill on the Floss. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

The last book that made me cry
I recently shed a little tear at Philip Wakem’s letter to Maggie Tulliver near the end of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. (That was one of the back catalogue too).

The last book that made me laugh
PG Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves – the story “The Purity of the Turf”, in which Bertie is consulting Jeeves as to whether to lay a bet on the forthcoming Girls’ Open Egg and Spoon Race at the annual village school treat. Jeeves advises that last year’s winner is an odds-on favourite. “They tell me in the village that she carries a beautiful egg, sir.”

The book I couldnt finish
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I just didn’t like it. I don’t know why! Maybe I’ll try again another time.

The book Im most ashamed not to have read
I’m not really ashamed that I haven’t read Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. But I probably will feel a bit more contented once I have read them, which I hope will be soon.

The book I give as a gift
I try to choose gifts with an eye to what the recipient might like to receive, so there is no universal answer to this question. For the aesthete, however, Teju Cole’s beautiful Blind Spot is hard to beat.

The book Id most like to be remembered for
I don’t think I care much about being remembered, really. I never think about it. But like anyone, I always want the next thing I do to be the best thing I’ve ever done.

My earliest reading memory
When I was very young I was given a book based on the Disney film Aladdin. Down the side of the pages was a plastic attachment with a series of buttons on it, each of which made a different noise when pressed. That’s the first book I remember reading.

My comfort read
All the Jeeves books, as above, and all of Jane Austen’s novels, especially Emma. As Jean Rhys wrote in Good Morning, Midnight: “I want a long, calm book about people with large incomes – a book like a flat green meadow and the sheep feeding in it.”

• An adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People will be on BBC Three from 26 April.

Sally Rooney

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