Alan Johnson: ‘I read Animal Farm at 14 and it changed my life’

El libro que estoy leyendo actualmente
The Untouchable by John Banville – a fictionalised version of the Anthony Blunt spy scandal. Banville has that rich prose style Irish writers seem to specialise in.

El libro que cambio mi vida
Animal Farm by George Orwell. When I was 14 our English teacher explained the subtext of the Bolshevik revolution and its inevitable conclusion – totalitarianism.

El libro que desearía haber escrito
Stoner by John Williams or The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Both are as close to being the perfect novel as it’s possible to get.

El último libro que me hizo reír
Lots of books make me smile, few make me laugh, pero The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith had me chuckling away throughout. Como era de esperar, it began life as a serial in Punch magazine. “Why should I not publish my diary?” the gently pretentious Charles Pooter asks on the first page. “I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never heard of, and I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ – why my diary should not be interesting.” It is, hilariously so.

The book that had the most influence on me
Every book I’ve ever read.

The book I think is most overrated
I bought all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, convinced by the reviews that I was in for a literary treat. By page 20 de My Brilliant Friend, I knew I wasn’t. I am well aware of how out of step I am.

The book that changed my mind
Isaac Deutscher’s The Prophet Unarmed is the second volume of his masterly trilogy on the life of Leon Trotsky. It made me sympathetic towards this extraordinary man while remaining hostile to the cult that bears his name.

El ultimo libro que me hizo llorar
Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. So brilliant but so achingly, heart-wrenchingly sad.

El libro que no pude terminar
I got further into A Suitable Boy por Vikram Seth than I did with the Ferrante; to page 677 De hecho. The problem was the 672 pages I still had to get through in order to finish the book. Seth writes well but I was tired of having constantly to consult the family trees so I shelved it two years ago – and there it sits, fat spine staring out provocatively; quietly imploring me to pick it up again.

El libro que te doy de regalo
The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin, but only because the Faber modern classics version (2016) has a foreword by me; I’m desperate to show off about it.

Mi primer recuerdo de lectura
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I was still at primary school when I read Mark Twain’s classic. I remember being captivated by Tom’s clever ploy to get others to whitewash his aunt’s fence, which he was supposed to do as a punishment. I’d read lots of books before this one but nothing stuck in my mind as vividly as this scene.

Mi consuelo leer
Anything by PG Wodehouse. I’ve read so many that I struggle to keep track. I’m sure I’ve read Pigs Have Wings por lo menos 10 times but the plot (intricate though it sometimes is) doesn’t matter. It’s the atmosphere that beguiles the reader, the inexhaustible good cheer that seeps from the pages and never fails in its rejuvenating effect.

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