David Baddiel: 'I don't really have shame as an emotion'

The writer and comedian on admiring John Updike, crying over Station Eleven and laughing at Alan Partridge

The book I am currently reading
I’m listening to À la recherche du temps perdu on audiobook. I find it helps with the hoovering. I’m also rereading Roger’s Version by John Updike, which – as well as being about adultery, as per – is also about religion and physics, similar to my play God’s Dice. It’s slightly frightening, considering I last read it in the 80s, how much it subconsciously influenced that play.

The book that changed my life
Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike – there’s going to be a lot of Updike. He and his fellow Great Male Narcissists, as David Foster Wallace called him and Bellow and Roth and Mailer, are very out of fashion, but important cultural correction away from their misogyny though that was and is, he’s just too good a prose writer for me to say anything else. When I read Rabbit Is Rich – the greatest of the Rabbit books – I began to understand entirely how the job of art, as Updike puts it, is “to give the mundane its beautiful due”. Of course he got that – a bit – from Proust.

The book I wish I’d written
It’s probably Rabbit Is Rich, or, if you view the four books as one, Rabbit. But I’m going to say, for other reasons, Fifty Shades of Grey.

The book I think is most overrated
I always found Saul Bellow, who was critically revered above Updike for most of their lifetimes, fairly unreadable. So I’m going to say The Adventures of Augie March.

The book that changed my mind
I read a self-help book once that contained the phrase “Anxiety is an emotion not a mandate”. It truly changed the way I thought about – and behaved with – my own fight-or-flight responses. Unfortunately despite it being a life-changing epiphany, I can’t remember the title of this book.

The last book that made me cry
In Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which is about a world destroyed by a flu pandemic, one of the characters looks at a snow globe in a deserted airport shop and imagines how many people – the factory workers, the designers, the packers, the sailors on the cargo ship that carried it across the sea to the shop – it would have taken to get it there. It becomes a kind of prayer for the lost world. This made me cry before our actual pandemic.

The last book that made me laugh
I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan – especially Steve Coogan’s audio version – is a stone-cold comic masterpiece.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
I don’t really have shame as an emotion.

My earliest reading memory
My mum reading me Ladybird books. Sarah Baddiel, who anyone who saw my show My Family: Not the Sitcom would know, had a long-term affair with a golfing memorabilia salesman and as a result became obsessed herself with golf and golfing memorabilia. So she might even make a good character for those new Ladybird comedy ones.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
Even though I don’t write literary novels any more, I’d like to be remembered for my book The Death of Eli Gold. Funnily enough, it’s about the death of a made-up great US novelist, a monster of a Great Male Narcissist.

The Taylor Turbochaser is published in paperback by HarperCollins Children’s Books on 9 July (RRP £6.99).

David Baddiel

The GuardianTramp

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