Article published on November 28, 2017.
In this latest instalment in our Ten Books and Why I Acquired Them series, Daniel Sevitt introduces us to ten books from his collection.
I like books. It’s not a crime. I read a lot of books. I even read a lot of crime books. Here are ten books from my collection, where they can be found filed alphabetically by author. Also, not a crime.
1. The Love You Make by Peter Brown – I became a Beatles nut in my early teens, in the early 80s. Had all the albums, listened to them all the time. This book came out three years after John Lennon was killed. The author is “the” Peter Brown… from the song. He’s namechecked in “The Ballad of John and Yoko” which was the last of their 17 number ones and which happened to be top of the charts on the day I was born. It’s a pretty scurrilous book and not well thought of in the canon of Beatles-lit, but my parents bought it for me as a Chanukah gift and it’s inscribed from “Mummy (+ Daddy though he doesn’t know it).”
2. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – I was a good reader as a kid, but mostly comic books and cereal boxes. My mum would buy me whatever I asked for and occasionally things I didn’t. I don’t know how Harriet M. Welsch came into my life, but she’s been a part of it for 40 odd years. It’s a story about someone who watches from the sidelines. Someone who gets herself into trouble. Someone who comes to learn the importance of having friends. It’s funny and sad. Nothing wrong with that.
3. If This Is A Man/The Truce by Primo Levi – After school I took a couple of years off and came to Israel. Often when I had a free weekend I would spend it with my Great Auntie Elsie in her apartment near the sea. We shared the same birthday. I filched this book from her shelf to read on kibbutz or wherever. Auntie Elsie lived until she was 99 and met all my children. She was awesome.
4. A Room With A View by E.M. Forster – I bought this for my ex-girlfriend for her 20th birthday. We’d dated for a while and then kinda broke up and were about to start university in different cities. In my note written in the front of the book, I wish her health, happiness and success for the coming year. I offer her my “continuing love and affection”. Next week is our silver wedding anniversary.
5. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – I was studying Literature at university in London. I was living in halls behind the Finchley Road in Hampstead. There were a ton of books that I was supposed to be reading for my courses, but this is one of the first books I bought for myself in the university bookshop and read for pleasure. It’s got that movie tie-in cover with Geena Davis and William Hurt on it. I have read and loved every Tyler book since.
6. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud – I bought this at Heathrow Airport to take with me on holiday to Florida with my wife. It was my first time visiting the States and I was very excited. I think I chose the book because it looked like proper literature, but under 200 pages. That was June 1994. We celebrated my birthday in Kissimmee and watched O.J. being chased down the highway in his Bronco. It was a great book and a fantastic holiday. Nine months later, we were parents.
7. The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler – My first real job was for an odd company near Old Street roundabout. There was a funny old sort in the accounts department who would come up to our floor and chat to me. Colleagues warned me not to lend him money as it only went on drink and the dogs, but Ian never really asked for any. He would stand to one side and talk to me about classic noir. He made me go and buy my first Chandler and would talk endlessly about The Long Goodbye and what it meant. He told me about the old guy who got him into noir fiction and how he had left him his collection when he died. The day I left the company, Ian gifted me this ratty hardback from the 1950s and wrote me a note telling me it was from his late pal’s collection, “poor condition but of great interest.”
8. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley – My wife and I emigrated together to Israel in 1996 with our infant son. We lived for the first year in a tiny apartment in an immigrant absorption centre. There wasn’t much to do. We had no TV. The first time my mum came to visit I sent her a list of books to look for in our local second-hand shop in London. This was one of the books she brought out to me and I stayed up all night and read it in one sitting. I’ve been reading Mosley ever since.
9. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan – I was pretty sure I was never going to read a book by Ian McEwan after being traumatized by a couple of his short stories while I was in school. I remember Mr Lempriere our English teacher reading us “Conversation with a Cupboard Man” and “Pornography” and I decided that Ian McEwan was somebody I could probably live without. Jump forward a decade or so and I was on one of my first ever business trips and found myself in a book shop in Manila staring at a paperback copy of Amsterdam. I bought it and Ian McEwan became someone I could no longer live without.
10. An Autobiography by Abba Eban – My father was upset that he couldn’t read faster. When he did get through something good, he was desperate to share it with us and he went as far as tracking down another second-hand copy of Eban’s book and presenting it to me with his highest recommendation. It sat on my to-be-read pile for a couple of years as I kept pushing it off in favour of something more current, more immediate. I read it over the summer a couple of months after my Dad died. It really was quite excellent.
You can submit your own Ten Books and Why I Acquired Them list here.