I rarely read books when I buy them. I wait until the hype has died down so I don’t have the words of critics throwing me off balance. In the case of writers like Toni Morrison, who averages a book about once every four years, I hold off for as long as I can, re-reading the first page and putting it back on the shelf. This explains why I have just finished Love even though I left the Royal Festival Hall clutching my signed copy over a year ago. In Love Morrison plays with the reader; holding and releasing information in a way that forces you to review your understanding of the book up to that point.
The Penguin books issued for their 70th anniversary are exciting on size grounds alone, like airline toothpaste or tiny pots of hotel jam. I can take a dinky book along if I go somewhere fancy, as they fit in the nicest of handbags. More seriously, they are a wonderful opportunity to sample writers I should have read but haven’t. I have just finished reading Primo Levi’s short stories Iron Potassium Nickel taken from The Periodic Table. I enjoyed his maleness: the world of work and science, and the philosophic beauty of chemistry.
I’ve been telling everyone to read The White Family by Maggie Gee (told you I was behind the times). She strikes me as a brave storyteller. In this book she writes about race from the point of view of the racist. She drew the character of a teenage misfit racist so well I saw his face when I heard that Anthony Walker had been axed to death at a bus stop.
The novel I am currently working on is set in Montserrat in 1966 at the time of a royal visit. That is why I am reading West Indian Cookery by E. Phyllis Clark. It was published in the 1950s and as well as precise but bossy recipes, it has lots of fascinating detail about food storage in the Caribbean before fridges and freezers were standard.
Donna Daley Clarke is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Her first novel A Lazy Eye was published in 2005.