André Aciman: 'I couldn’t finish Moby-Dick. I lacked the patience'

The author of Call Me By Your Name on laughing out loud at The Pickwick Papers and racing through Enid Blyton

The book I am currently reading
The Republic of False Truths by Alaa al-Aswany, a dentist who lived and practised in Cairo until he moved to the west and now teaches in New York. An amazing portrait of fanaticism and cynicism among Egyptian powermongers, the novel reminded me that years ago I had read his Yacoubian Building.

The book that changed my life
I constantly change my mind: Montaigne’s Essays, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Basically, it depends when you ask the question. Today it could easily be Austen’s Emma. All four authors taught me something priceless: the ability to examine the human psyche and its twisted, undisclosed, frequently misguided motives.

The book I wish I’d written
Justine by Lawrence Durrell. Some people think it is “too much.” I disagree. Great novelists always reinvent the form of the novel. Lesser ones take the novel as they found it and leave it “as is” when they’re gone.

The book that had the greatest influence on me
In Search of Lost Time. It taught me I wasn’t crazy: I was obsessed with the past, with the retrieval of memories, with human introspection, and with style. Without him I wouldn’t have explored any of this.

The book I think is most overrated
I won’t touch this question.

The book that changed my mind
I read Gogol’s Dead Souls when I was in my mid-teens. I hated it, never finished it. I read it 15 years go and thought that it was one of the 10 best books ever written. It is lyrical, funny and supremely mischievous. One understands why Cervantes, another giant, was such a powerful influence on Gogol.

The last book that made me cry
Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov. A very slow and melancholic novel, but stunning. At the end I could only tear up.

The last book that made me laugh
Maybe Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers. I read it on a train from Boston to New York and there were moments when I simply burst out laughing. I think the only other English author who could be this funny and yet utterly lyrical and tragic is Shakespeare.

The book I couldn’t finish
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Brilliant but I lacked the patience.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Moby-Dick. Yes, a work of genius, but I leave it to others.

The book I give as a gift
Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian. One of the greatest books of the 20th century.

My earliest reading memory
What else? Enid Blyton. Devoured every book I could get my hands on. I would finish each in one day which began to worry my parents; I was buying them all.

My comfort read
Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Bliss”. I read it every February and it brings back a sense of order and harmony to my life. It is set in London, which for me has become a sort of imaginary London that I believe still exists and that I always hope to find one day.

Find Me by André Aciman is published by Faber.

André Aciman

The GuardianTramp

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