WHAT BOOK would broadcaster, writer and former politician Gyles Brandreth take to a desert island?
- Gyles is currently reading Looking For Trouble by Virginia Cowles
- Would take Dancing By The Light of The Moon to a desert island
- Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School first gave him the reading bug
… are you reading now?
Looking For Trouble by Virginia Cowles — one of the most remarkable and gripping works of non-fiction I have ever read.
First published in 1941 and just reissued by Faber, it is a young war correspondent’s account of the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of World War II.
Gyles Brandreth (pictured) is currently reading Looking For Trouble by Virginia Cowles. He would take Dancing By The Light Of The Moon to a desert island
A well-connected American journalist in her 20s, the seemingly fearless Cowles travelled to the European war zones of the 1930s and her depiction of the reality of war is unputdownable.
From the absurdity of Hitler flirting with British socialite Unity Mitford to the horror of the Russian invasion of Finland (alarmingly foreshadowing what is happening in Ukraine right now), this is a major work of history and literature. I am amazed it is not more famous.
… would you take to a desert island?
Dancing By The Light Of The Moon (Penguin), my own anthology of poetry to learn by heart. From Auden to Zephaniah, there are over 250 poems here, mostly short, mostly rhyming and rhythmical, old favourites (Edward Lear, Walter de la Mare) and a few surprises (the Insta-poets get a look-in).
I want poetry on my desert island because I will need different poems to suit my changing moods and the changing seasons — and because research shows that learning poetry by heart can help keep your synapses supple and dementia at bay.
Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School first gave him the reading bug
. . . first gave you the reading bug?
After I had grown out of Enid Blyton and Noddy and before I discovered Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, I was completely hooked on the adventures of Billy Bunter Of Greyfriars School by Frank Richards. Bunter and Greyfriars were the Harry Potter and Hogwarts of my day — comical schoolboy yarns set in a traditional English boys’ boarding school. Bunter was a fat boy — boastful and deceitful — who was regularly ragged by his schoolfriends and beaten by the masters. You couldn’t publish the stories today, but in the 1950s (when Bunter was also a TV favourite) I simply loved him.
. . . left you cold?
I love words. I love the richness and diversity of the English language, which is why I know I should relish the work of one of the great Irish masters of language, James Joyce. At school, I read and enjoyed A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. Published in 1916, it’s got a story I understood.
I tried his Ulysses (1920) and struggled a bit with that. When I got round to the book some scholars regard as his greatest, Finnegans Wake (1939), I was completely lost. I gave up when I got this 100-letter word in the third paragraph: bababadal gharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronnton nerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawn toohoohoordenenthurnuk.
- Gyles Brandreth’s autobiography, Odd Boy Out, published by Penguin, is out now.
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