As an only child, I retreated into reading at an early age and loved the process of creating an entire universe inside my head. I’m still the same. I recall at the age of 11, setting up a little bookshelf of my own with a dozen second hand paperbacks and thinking of myself as some kind of intellectual. I’m still hooked on the smell of paper, and I find the process of wandering through second hand bookshops to be a kind of meditation. I do seem to enter a trancelike state – very, very calm, but willing to be excited by what I find on every shelf.
Here's a selection of my Can't Be Without volumes...
Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver – At the time I first read this collection, I had thought I knew what short stories were capable of. Carver opened a door into a whole other kind of writing, and he became a big influence on my own work. Perhaps unfairly, I’ve measured all the other short story writers against him ever since.
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnston – and here’s one who bears comparison with Carver. Dreamlike, disturbing short stories with a recurring cast of characters. Kind of like Winesburg Ohio but gone all wrong and strung out on crack. I owe a huge debt to Ciaran Lavery for introducing me to this writer.
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut – there’s a copy of this at the cottage in Canada and I read it every summer. It only takes a couple of days, and it’s always a joy. A story that leaps around, from the degradation and horror of the Second World War to alien abduction, time travel and mid-20th century American boredom - within a page.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (right) – Smart, funny, warm and compulsively readable. Just about anything she has written is worth a look. I also love her novel A Gate at the Stairs. But these short stories were the first things of hers that I read.
Rock Springs by Richard Ford – Ford is my favourite living writer, and has penned some of the finest novels of his generation. But I keep going back to this early short story collection. Beautifully drawn characters and some impossible situations.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion – As I get older, I see more clearly how conservative Didion is in her reading of the late 60s. But there is something so incredibly cool about how she expresses all of her misgivings in these essays. A detached, measured response to often outrageous events. And it contains some of her best work, including the title piece and Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, which starts with the dazzling sentence: ‘This is a story about love and death in the golden land and it begins with the country’.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – This was the first magic realism thing I ever read, and I was instantly hooked, and went on to read a whole raft of Marquez novels and stories. It was all so unexpected, after years of reading crime and thrillers, to suddenly have these wondrous events cascading out from the pages.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – I discovered Truman Capote through my father, who had read this for the ‘true crime’ element in it, and passed it on to me. I went on to discover a much more tender writer in the early stories and of course Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But this remains his masterpiece, a chilling and beautifully written ‘non-fiction novel’, a true account of a murder and the manhunt that followed.
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry – My favourite living Irish writer. I bought The Whereabouts of Aeneas McNulty in a sale because I loved the title and fell in love with his dreamlike, poetic prose instantly. But this World War One story is the one that haunted me – I was blown sideways by the ending, and found myself mourning and missing the characters when the book was over.
You can buy copies of the new album INK from the STORE page at this website.
Anthony's 'official' album launch date is at The Lyric Theatre, Belfast on Sunday April 23, with special guests Ciaran Lavery, Eilidh Patterson and John McCullough. Click HERE to be directed to the ticket sales page at the Lyric.