Aaron Edwards answers thirteen questions in a Booker's Dozen. 

TPQ:
What are you currently reading?

AE: I’ve always half a dozen books on the go. Earlier this year I finished Roy Foster’s excellent short biography of Seamus Heaney. I was never a great fan of Heaney – we had English poets like Wordsworth, Brooke and Sassoon drilled into us at school, instead of Heaney. I read a lot of T.S. Elliot, John Hewitt and Robert Graves at university and came to Ciaran Carson and Heaney late. I’ve also finished re-reading George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984, one of my favourite books, and Eliot Higgins’ We Are Bellingcat. I’m currently reading Simon Akam’s The Changing of the Guard.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

AE: This is a tough one. There are so many! I’m a huge fan of Michel Houellebecq – Atomised and The Possibility of an Island really grabbed my imagination when I read them on holiday a few years ago. Houellebecq is the master of escapist storytelling. I tend to read fiction when I’m not teaching or writing. There are far too many bad books to list. I found Emma Cline’s The Girls tough going; the same with much talked about – and, often, little read - contemporary Irish fiction. It makes me wonder just how genuine some literary critics are when they review books.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

AE: I think that was probably one of the Roald Dahl classics - The BFG or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – closely followed by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I also recall spending a lot of time reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, comic books, choose your own adventure books, coffee table books about the Second World War and reference books like encyclopedias and The Guinness Book of World Records. I’ve always had an eclectic reading taste.

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

AE: My early teens were dominated by novels by Stephen King. I read and re-read The Shining – there’s something horrifying - yet magical - about it. Jack Torrance’s cabin fever and descent into self-destructive psychosis was captured brilliantly by Stanley Kubrick in his subsequent film adaptation. Looking back, all these years after reading it, The Shining is the perfect allegory for our plague times, much of which have been spent in lockdown and ‘self-isolation’. It reminds us that, as a species, we aren’t too far away from losing touch with reality, whether that’s by being cut off from face-to-face interpersonal relationships or by being sucked into the virtual reality of social media.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

AE: That’s a tie between 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell – both are mesmerizing. I own a first edition of 1984, which is one of my most treasured possessions. Although it was published in the aftermath of the Second World War, it still tells us a lot about the world today. Growing up in Northern Ireland, I always saw echoes of ideological delusion, inane sloganeering and the Thought Police around every corner. I often return to Orwell when I see or hear of injustices meted out to those who are courageous enough to stand against the herd. It’s consoling but it’s also an inspirational rallying call – to a kind of cordon sanitaire – against some deeply unpleasant and destructive politics.


TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

AE: George Orwell and Virginia Wolff. I’ve been reading them both since studying A Level English Literature. Amazing.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

AE: I’ve probably around 1,200 or so books in my personal library – a third are fiction and the rest non-fiction, though, being totally honest, I love the escapism afforded by fiction. I’ve always believed that creative writing liberates us from the straight jacket of reality because its magic relies on how it makes us feel rather than what it makes us think. We might say that true independence of mind comes from the unblocking of our imaginative pores - fiction offers this kind of intellectual exfoliation.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

AE: Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22 is my all-time favourite memoir. The Hitch could be spellbinding and was certainly, in my view, one of the most articulate public intellectuals to have ever lived. Beyond that I have always read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, particularly of artists. I studied Art for GCSE and A Level and benefited from having the contemporary Irish artist Graham Gingles as my teacher. Graham taught me a lot about art and introduced me to the work of figurative painters like Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali. I read Michael Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma and Ian Gibson’s The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali in 1997-98. They’re probably two of the most accomplished books ever written on both artists. Right now, I’m hoping to move onto William Feaver’s new two-volume biography of Lucian Freud once I finish Akam’s weighty tome.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

AE: There are a few books I’ve found impossible to read, despite the hype that accompanies them. Christopher Hitchens once said that “everyone has a book inside them, which is where exactly it should, in most cases, remain.” I do persist with bad books – even badly written ones – but reading for pleasure should be about escaping from reality, not being detained by it.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

AE: That easy - Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian!

A Berlin Book Tower in memory
of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

AE: One of my own! In terms of other books, I think it was a rare collection of Pablo Neruda’s poems, published in Spanish and English. At the end of last year, I gave a friend a year’s free subscription to the London Review of Books, which I have really benefited from reading since 2019.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

AE: I would probably have to say The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh. It’s about his character Jim Francis, aka Begbie from Trainspotting fame. Welsh explores how Begbie is forever condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past if he cannot break free from the gravitational pull of the deprived, tough working class estates that produced him. Having spent a lot of time in Edinburgh over many years, visiting family and friends and getting to know the kind of places and people who might inhabit Welsh’s world, I think The Blade Artist captures the nature-nurture debate perfectly.

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

AE: There are so many books on that list, though I’d have to choose some of the classics. I’d like to read the complete works of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and HG Wells. I re-read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol a few months ago and I’d like to return to his work again this year.

Aaron Edward's latest book is Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA.

Booker's Dozen @ Aaron Edwards

Aaron Edwards answers thirteen questions in a Booker's Dozen. 

TPQ:
What are you currently reading?

AE: I’ve always half a dozen books on the go. Earlier this year I finished Roy Foster’s excellent short biography of Seamus Heaney. I was never a great fan of Heaney – we had English poets like Wordsworth, Brooke and Sassoon drilled into us at school, instead of Heaney. I read a lot of T.S. Elliot, John Hewitt and Robert Graves at university and came to Ciaran Carson and Heaney late. I’ve also finished re-reading George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984, one of my favourite books, and Eliot Higgins’ We Are Bellingcat. I’m currently reading Simon Akam’s The Changing of the Guard.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

AE: This is a tough one. There are so many! I’m a huge fan of Michel Houellebecq – Atomised and The Possibility of an Island really grabbed my imagination when I read them on holiday a few years ago. Houellebecq is the master of escapist storytelling. I tend to read fiction when I’m not teaching or writing. There are far too many bad books to list. I found Emma Cline’s The Girls tough going; the same with much talked about – and, often, little read - contemporary Irish fiction. It makes me wonder just how genuine some literary critics are when they review books.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

AE: I think that was probably one of the Roald Dahl classics - The BFG or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – closely followed by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I also recall spending a lot of time reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, comic books, choose your own adventure books, coffee table books about the Second World War and reference books like encyclopedias and The Guinness Book of World Records. I’ve always had an eclectic reading taste.

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

AE: My early teens were dominated by novels by Stephen King. I read and re-read The Shining – there’s something horrifying - yet magical - about it. Jack Torrance’s cabin fever and descent into self-destructive psychosis was captured brilliantly by Stanley Kubrick in his subsequent film adaptation. Looking back, all these years after reading it, The Shining is the perfect allegory for our plague times, much of which have been spent in lockdown and ‘self-isolation’. It reminds us that, as a species, we aren’t too far away from losing touch with reality, whether that’s by being cut off from face-to-face interpersonal relationships or by being sucked into the virtual reality of social media.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

AE: That’s a tie between 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell – both are mesmerizing. I own a first edition of 1984, which is one of my most treasured possessions. Although it was published in the aftermath of the Second World War, it still tells us a lot about the world today. Growing up in Northern Ireland, I always saw echoes of ideological delusion, inane sloganeering and the Thought Police around every corner. I often return to Orwell when I see or hear of injustices meted out to those who are courageous enough to stand against the herd. It’s consoling but it’s also an inspirational rallying call – to a kind of cordon sanitaire – against some deeply unpleasant and destructive politics.


TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

AE: George Orwell and Virginia Wolff. I’ve been reading them both since studying A Level English Literature. Amazing.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

AE: I’ve probably around 1,200 or so books in my personal library – a third are fiction and the rest non-fiction, though, being totally honest, I love the escapism afforded by fiction. I’ve always believed that creative writing liberates us from the straight jacket of reality because its magic relies on how it makes us feel rather than what it makes us think. We might say that true independence of mind comes from the unblocking of our imaginative pores - fiction offers this kind of intellectual exfoliation.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

AE: Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22 is my all-time favourite memoir. The Hitch could be spellbinding and was certainly, in my view, one of the most articulate public intellectuals to have ever lived. Beyond that I have always read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, particularly of artists. I studied Art for GCSE and A Level and benefited from having the contemporary Irish artist Graham Gingles as my teacher. Graham taught me a lot about art and introduced me to the work of figurative painters like Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali. I read Michael Peppiatt’s Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma and Ian Gibson’s The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali in 1997-98. They’re probably two of the most accomplished books ever written on both artists. Right now, I’m hoping to move onto William Feaver’s new two-volume biography of Lucian Freud once I finish Akam’s weighty tome.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

AE: There are a few books I’ve found impossible to read, despite the hype that accompanies them. Christopher Hitchens once said that “everyone has a book inside them, which is where exactly it should, in most cases, remain.” I do persist with bad books – even badly written ones – but reading for pleasure should be about escaping from reality, not being detained by it.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

AE: That easy - Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian!

A Berlin Book Tower in memory
of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

AE: One of my own! In terms of other books, I think it was a rare collection of Pablo Neruda’s poems, published in Spanish and English. At the end of last year, I gave a friend a year’s free subscription to the London Review of Books, which I have really benefited from reading since 2019.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

AE: I would probably have to say The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh. It’s about his character Jim Francis, aka Begbie from Trainspotting fame. Welsh explores how Begbie is forever condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past if he cannot break free from the gravitational pull of the deprived, tough working class estates that produced him. Having spent a lot of time in Edinburgh over many years, visiting family and friends and getting to know the kind of places and people who might inhabit Welsh’s world, I think The Blade Artist captures the nature-nurture debate perfectly.

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

AE: There are so many books on that list, though I’d have to choose some of the classics. I’d like to read the complete works of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and HG Wells. I re-read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol a few months ago and I’d like to return to his work again this year.

Aaron Edward's latest book is Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA.

4 comments:

  1. I too tend to have too many books on the go at one time and I am not convinced it is a good idea. Myself and Pat Livingstone (a voracious reader) would debate the merits of reading more than one book at a time and his view was that there is less focus and therefore less enjoyment. I think he was right but I have never managed to kick the habit.
    The King ones I read in the Blocks - the first one during the hunger strikes - Carrie. Wasn't overly impressed but once I did Salem's Lot and The Stand I was hooked. Now my daughter is an avid reader of King.
    Animal Farm and 1984 are both great reads. Both get to the base lust for power and the measures used to hold onto it.
    Thanks Aaron for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also think too many books on the go at the same time is not a great idea. I usually read one or two, no more than two on the go at the same time.

    George Orwell (Eric Blair) tends to concentrate on anti-Soviet themes. This position has many merits as Joe Stalin was not a great advert for socialism and internationalism, in fact his theory of "socialism in one country" flies in the face of international socialism. That said, Stalin was operating under extreme circumstances, some of his own making, others perhaps not so much. 1984 was suppossed to epitomise a Stalinist regime with the "Thought Police" (Gestapo)standing on every corner and eavesdropping every home. For me, it has more in common with Nazi Germany than Soviet Russia with Herman Goerings "information buereau" which eavesdropped on everybody lives. In fact, today it is the centre to far right governments who are watching our every move. Be it through CCTV in the streets, which have possitive and negative connatations. Possitive as preventing crime, like muggings or at least making apprehending the culprits easier. Negative because we are watched for all the wrong reasons, like in Britain are more than six people on a picket line. Anti-capitalist organisations are monitored by the modern bourgeois states. Back in 1964 the elected Prime Minister, Harold Wilson's phones were tapped by MI5. This has much in common with 1984 and Orwells prophecies.
    All Orwells works have strong political undertones. Animal farm ends, similar to Soviet Russia, with the pigs, Stalinists, enjoying all the comforts once enjoyed by humans while the animals lived in shit on the farm. The animals still lived in crap on the farm, in fact the hardest worker, the horse Boxer, was sold for glue. While this was going on the pigs, like Jones the farmer before them, were living in luxury. Lessons must be taken from Orwells observations, brilliantly epitomised in his works.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Caoimhin - I too think there is much more to be learned from Orwell than merely insights into the Soviet system. That lust for power is at the heart of every system. I doubt society will ever curb it any more than it will greed. The best it can manage is to find structures that do not allow the lust or greed to manifest itself in injustice.

      Delete
  3. Mick Hall comments

    I have read most of Orwell, books, Homage to Catalonia, Wigan Pier, 1984 etc and he was a very fine writer, but after it was revealed he was touting communists while working at the BBC it left a bad taste in my month. Anyone who has ever been blacklisted understands the damage this can do.

    On Eric Hobsbawn who was mentioned in a previous Booker's Dozen:

    Hobsbawn's later direction of travel seems a little hard to explain, whilst he was a CPGB prominent member in the 1960s and well beyond, he was made an acting professor at Stanford university and in 1971, he was also elected a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Which given to get a US visa back then you had to answer the questions are you or have you ever been a Communist? Now a low profile Communist might get away with lying about it, but someone who was already on MI5 books? Later unless I'm mistaken he got a knighthood. You get my drift!

    ReplyDelete