Shelf life - Julian Barnes

What is currently on your bookshelf?

Miranda Carter’s biography of Anthony Blunt; France: The Dark Years by Julian Jackson; and Edith Wharton’s The Children.

What books are on your bedside table?

I know bedside tables are meant to have books on them, but usually there are magazines on mine. You might find a green Michelin guide there, to give my dreams some guidance.

Which books have you been unable to finish and why?

Tristram Shandy, which I’ve never been able to start either; I think I fear its jocosity.

What was your favourite book in your childhood and why?

A book called Speed Six about a Le Mans

24-hour race in 1950 in which a plucky

pre-war Bentley in British racing-green livery valiantly overcame scarlet Maseratis and some other lurid foreign motors. I think the reason I liked it is embarrassingly obvious.

Which books have made you cry and which have made you laugh out loud?

Books don’t make me cry; I don’t know why - music, films, theatre can work the trick. Maybe it’s different being a writer - part of you is always working out how things are being done. Not that this stops me laughing: Evelyn Waugh, Carl Hiassen, and any volume of Doonesbury.

If you were to buy a book for someone as a present, what would it be and why?

Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century and still very underrated. A tale of operatic passion narrated by a bumbler.

If you were to write an autobiography what would it be called?

It’s got such a good title that I can’t tell you because one of your readers would nick it and I’m going to need it in 20 years’ time. I’ve always liked the title of Eric Ambler’s autobiography, Here Lies.

Which literary character would you most want to meet in the flesh?

None. Literary characters are at their most real on the page, and should stay there; imagine the disappointment of not fancying Emma Bovary, or of finding that Heathcliff had halitosis.

Which books do you think should be given the Hollywood treatment?

Books by poor, struggling and deserving authors. Books by rich, successful, smug authors should all be filmed by Jean-Luc Godard: that would bring their authors down to earth.

Which author would you never have on your bookshelf?

I don’t believe any author should be banned, or treated as beyond redemption; but there’s a distinct shortage of Tolkien and Mervyn Peake on my shelves.

Bookmark or page corner fold?

I use a bookmark and make any notes at the back of the book. Folding down the corners of pages, scribbling in margins and breaking the spines of paperbacks are signs of a barbarian.