There is a special adaptation of the drinking game “Never Have I Ever” that entertains literary types, and it’s called “Never Have I Ever Read…” So, one person pipes up that she’s never finished Ulysses, for instance, and everybody in the group who has read it has to down a drink. If the game is not well-balanced then some players will end up very embarrassed by their ignorance, but that won’t matter because all the really well-read ones won’t remember it come the morning.
There is an even more dangerous game that is seldom played, and that is called “Iconic Literature That I Just Can’t Stand”. Long-standing and loyal friendships have been lost when literary allegiances clash, so it takes a really brave reader to stand up and speak against tradition and accepted good taste. Sir Salman Rushdie has waded right in, however, in the very public forum of Goodreads reader reviews.
On Thursday, the novelist updated his personal “shelf” with 43 books that he has read, and rated each one from one to five. Poor Kingsley Amis (a friend of Rushdie’s old pal Christopher Hitchens) scores one star for Lucky Jim. V S Naipaul, despite a well-publicised and long-running feud with Rushdie (in which both liked to pretend not to have heard of each other) gets a five for A House for Mr Biswas. Perhaps more brutal are the threes: Money, by Martin Amis, three stars; To Kill A Mockingbird, a three!
Writers I know were scandalised. “Three stars for Money?” one said. “He may just be having a hissy fit.” Others have felt emboldened to admit their own unfashionable dislikes. Hating Middlemarch seems to be a common confession. So does giving up on Tristram Shandy. All right then, since we’re all being honest: I find P G Wodehouse completely unfunny, even though I know several of my colleagues who will shun me for saying so. What’s more, I still love Thomas Hardy, and I don’t care what any of you think about it.
Books highlights of 2015
Books highlights of 2015
1/6 God Help the Child by Toni Morrison - 23 April
A new book by this American Nobel Laureate is always going to be an event, and this one has excitement building around it already: it is the story of the way in which the legacy of childhood trauma can shape, and damage, adult life.
2/6 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro - 3 March
Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is being billed by his publishers as urgent, relevant, troubling and mysterious, and its central characters are called Axl and Beatrice. We’ll have to wait to find out more
Matt Carr/Getty Images
3/6 So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - 12 March
The idea for Jon Ronson’s latest offering was sparked by his online identity theft in 2012. Ronson confronted the imposters and began a probing inquiry into public shaming on social media. It looks funny and seriously hard-hitting.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images
4/6 Mr & Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance by Daisy Hay - 8 January
A biography of a fascinating couple, gleaned from letters found in the Bodleian Library archives. He was one of the foremost politicians of the Victorian age, she the daughter of a sailor on her second marriage. Their passionate letters through courtship and marriage will surely make fascinating reading.
5/6 The Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, edited by Larry Siems - 20 January
A diary written by a Guantanamo detainee, this book promises to be a powerful and unsettling read. Mauritian-born Slahi has been imprisoned for 12 years and has yet to be charged for any crimes.
6/6 Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig - 5 March
A rumination on depression, Matt Haig’s book takes the novelist into personal territory while keeping an eye on the bigger picture: “In the Western world suicide is the leading cause of death among men under the age of 35.” Joanna Lumley calls it a “small masterpiece”.
Perhaps Sir Salman has done us all a favour, I thought, forcing friends to get this kind of thing out in the open. Knowing a loved one’s literary tastes is as revealing as knowing how they vote. Maybe we should all confess our personal taste atrocities in a spirit of openness and cooperation.
Then I heard Rushdie’s explanation: it was all a mistake, he wrote on Facebook on Friday. “I thought these rankings were a private thing designed to tell the site what sort of books to recommend to me, or not recommend. Turns out they are public….” Oops! Still, he concludes: “I don’t like the work of Kingsley Amis, there it is. I don’t have to explain or justify. It’s allowed.” He may well think so, but others are still horrified by his iconoclasm. I for one am just glad that he fessed up, before I got all over-sharing and started telling everyone how I really feel about magical realism….Reuse content