This is a question I have been pondering recently, although as usual, trying to avoid thinking in terms of favourites. If it’s a question of influence, then the answer would probably be Clive James, whose Unreliable Memoirs was one of my touchstone reading experiences growing up. I hungrily gobbled his fourth volume, North Face of Soho, over my summer sojourn without feeling the lack of having missed volumes two and three.
There is a certain type of male writer – I cannot think of a single woman whom I can place in such a category – who without compunction feels able to write about any topic, roaming freely among historical, literary, political, technological, and cultural reference points with all the hutzpah of a prize stallion in a paddock of bored mares.
I have envied the confidence of this approach to writing my whole life, and have only recently come to understand that it can be as much of a front as a corporate wardrobe. It has been exacerbated by my being a woman, and discovering that, despite my education and other forms of privilege, on some level I’ve been waiting for permission – from whom, I am not sure – to try it myself. Which of course is a large part of the reason for my being in New York these days.
I will always remain a fan of Clive James because of his catholic interests and passions, at the same time as I wish I could edit his work (they don’t call me the Book Butcher of Brooklyn for nothin’), and I’m sure as sh** glad he wasn’t my husband. In a world of specialists I seek out and respect the generalists, who seem to have a gift for connecting dots that others miss. Here is a wonderfully generous review of James’s Cultural Amnesia, just published in the US and forthcoming in Australia via Picador, my old stomping ground, later this year. I don’t usually fall on the side of globalisation with two steady feet, but in the realm of the intellect I realise that I do.