Lionel Shriver: This Cultural Life

From jazz to 'Jesus Christ Superstar', the writer loves listening to music - so long as it's old
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The Independent Online

What are you reading in bed at the moment?

Alice McDermott, and it's her new book, called After This.

Are you enjoying it?

I haven't decided yet. It's a slow book. It's very well written. I'm only 50 pages in. I think it's important to keep an open mind with books, because at a certain point you close down and start looking for what's wrong with it.

What book have you been meaning to read since you bought it?

I'd say the longest running is Moby Dick. I've had a copy since I was 16. It's really long! I find that I've got more impatient as I've got older. I remember - in my mid-30s - I decided to go back and re-read The Brothers Karamazov. I had read that book when I was 17, and devoured it. And I couldn't get through it.I couldn't bear these long-winded, religious discussions about points of theology that didn't interest me. I am not as patient with fat books. That said, I'm increasingly writing longer ones myself...

What do you cling on to from childhood?

It's more a question of what I don't cling on to. I haven't changed very much. As a kid, I compulsively archived my own life, and I still tend to do that. It's a combination of keeping little objects that remind me of something; keeping anything that I published; and keeping a journal. I haven't changed my hairstyle since I was 11.

What was your cultural passion at 14?

My biggest passion was Simon and Garfunkel, which was maybe really uncool. But I still love Simon and Garfunkel; I think they stand up very well. The lyrics are great and, musically, it's pretty sophisticated. Now that I find that their stuff has stood the test of time I'm pleased with my taste as a kid.

What music are you listening to at present?

For the most part, I depend on my husband's party-shuffle function on his iMac and the stuff that's loaded into his computer is 100-per-cent jazz. My husband is a jazz drummer by profession and so I listen to jazz every night.

What is the least disposable pop song?

Some of this is a little cheesy, but, as an antidote to the party-shuffle jazz experience, I have an embarrassing weakness for a series of soundtracks! Sweeney Todd, Chariots of Fire, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and Jesus Christ Superstar. You'll notice they are all old.

Do you listen to them regularly?

Not all the time, but, yes, fairly regularly. I'm afraid the hole in my cultural life is popular music. Contemporary popular music. I stopped buying music in about 1996. And this is a point of shame, OK, because I used to keep up a lot. But I just got discouraged, because I didn't like anything I was hearing. I see little bits and pieces just flicking through on the TV and I'll stop and listen to something, but it doesn't happen very often that it makes me want to run out and get it.

What is your secret cultural passion?

My secret cultural passion, shamefully, is Desperate Housewives. I have to confess that I am strangely addicted to that show, and I can't say why. When I first saw it I thought, what is the big to-do about this? But, mysteriously, I watched the second episode. And then the third... and now I won't miss it. More reputably, I have been glued to the re-runs of This Life. Now that is a very fine television programme. It's so well acted and very well written. Those are good characters and, as a novelist, I admire them. It's like Simon and Garfunkel: I saw them the first time, and they re-watch great, which is a good test.

Which painting most corresponds with your vision of yourself?

David Inshaw's The Badminton Game. It's beautiful. It's in Tate Britain, not always up. It's my vision of happiness, I think. It's a big brick house with huge round trees. The trees seem happy! And it's two girls playing badminton. Of course, in my mind's eye that translates to tennis. And the sky is blue: it's a beautiful painting and it's a vision of joy, peace, repose, and quiet celebration.

Do you like parties?

I revile parties. I don't do well in large groups of people: I have never learned to mingle very well and have an unfortunate tendency, when I do find somebody to talk to, to seize on them forever and never let them go! There's something about large parties that makes me feel 13 years old, and I want to go hide in the corner with a book or, in preference to that, go home.

Would you consider yourself a cool person?

I have a history of being uncool. I was a very uncool kid. But my strategy on this is just not to change. And if you stay the same, whatever it is that you're doing, or wearing, or saying, will eventually come into fashion. It is how it works.

What is the most fashionable thing that you own? And the most uncool?

My leather bomber jacket, which I wear everywhere, never goes out of fashion. It's a classic and it weighs more than I do. As for uncool, I am sorry to admit that I still wear both slouch socks and scrunchies.

But scrunchies are back in fashion!

I was told never to wear them. They're back already? I'm so relieved! This is a good example. You just wait - I'm hanging on to my slouch socks and they'll come back in to fashion too.

Who would play you in the Hollywood version of your life?

If I'm going to be vain and idealistic, a younger Lauren Bacall. If I'm going to be more realistic, I think the overly honest and more down-to-earth Sandra Bullock. She's got bite and she's got a sense of humour.

Who would be your nemesis?

I tend to have a long history of falling for tall, thin, sharply featured men. I fell for Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia when I was 12 years old and my heartthrobs since, including my own husband, conform to that type. So a young Peter O'Toole would be my downfall.

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