WHAT BOOK would author David Baddiel take to a desert island?

WHAT BOOK would author David Baddiel take to a desert island?

  • Comedian and author David Baddiel is now reading The Last Trial by Scott Turow
  • He says that he would take Updike’s series of four Rabbit books to a desert island 
  • While reading Billy Bunter books by Frank Richards gave him the reading bug

… are you reading now?

Two at once. I’m listening to the audio book of Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera, his eye-opening insight into just how hard-wired the imperial and colonial history of Britain is into the way we live now. It’s an amazing education.

And reading with my eyes, The Last Trial by Scott Turow. Turow is something I’ve been searching for for a long time, a novelist who writes like a great literary author at the level of the sentence, like Updike or Roth or Carol Shields, but with banging crime/legal drama plots.

… would you take to a desert island?

Updike’s Rabbit books. There are four: Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit At Rest, and they chart the course of one small-town American man’s life over four decades. 

Comedian and author David Baddiel (pictured) is currently reading The Last Trial by Scott Turow would take Updike’s four Rabbit books to a desert island

Collectively they are, in my opinion, the greatest literary masterpiece written in English of the last century.

Updike is an extraordinary prose writer, but in these books he applies that extraordinary prose only to a very ordinary life. In his own words, he ‘gives the mundane its beautiful due’. 

They are published as one omnibus, called simply Rabbit. So I’m going to claim that as one book.

… first gave you the reading bug?

When I was a kid, I used to read Billy Bunter books by Frank Richards. Which is weird as they were written in the 1920s and I’m not that old. 

But my mum used to collect old children’s books, and she foisted them on me, and I guess at the time they were like Harry Potter.

Reading Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter books as a child first gave David the reading bug

At least the posh crumpet-toasting world they depicted, from my point of view in mundane 1970s Cricklewood, seemed magical.

… left you cold?

I don’t like biography in general. But I feel, as I get older, I should. That it’s the adult choice, like fish in a restaurant. But like fish in a restaurant, whenever I start it, I always think: where’s the meat? Basically, where’s the story?

I do read non-fiction much more than I used to, but it tends to be more essay books. Proper biography, I always find too disparate. Especially the first chapters about childhood.

I’m not going to single one out, because I don’t like to be negative about other writers, but the only one I’ve really ever liked was Richard Holmes’s two-part biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and even that I couldn’t finish. Sorry, Richard. I know it was very good.

Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel is out now (TLS Books, £7.99). David is speaking at Jewish Book Week online on March 6, jewishbookweek.com.

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