At first glance, an invitation to write about a favourite book for a blog would not seem to be the most onerous of gigs. After all, there are times when the internet seems to have been largely invented for people to list and enthuse about what books they have read – only porn and mad ranting run it close in popularity.
But when the person inviting is Norman Geras, and the spot is the Writer’s Choice part of his famous Normblog, the whole thing becomes altogether more scary. I am writer number 318 to have made a choice, and my predecessors are an impressive bunch, which includes Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson, Nick Cohen, Linda Grant and Francis Wheen.
The problem with making a writer’s choice for this archive is that it is not only the book that is being judged, but you; writing a blog, unpaid and for the sheer joy of it, is altogether different from being asked to review something. There are books which once loomed large in one’s life (say, Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes or Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy) which are now inexplicably hard work to read.
In fact, it is the re-reading of a favourite that is the great challenge. I wanted to find a book which I would admire even more when I returned to it than when I first read it.
I did. Six months after my deadline had passed, I re-opened the most outrageous book in the canon of Philip Roth – and what a breath-taking, life-enhancing treat it turned out to be.