An early-morning reader

Mark Nixon

By Amy Sutherland Globe Correspondent 

In his newest book, Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, tells a story that has become all too common, a man recalling how as a boy he was abused by a priest. But don’t expect that Doyle, who won the Booker Prize for “Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha,” has lost his sense of humor, the darkness of which is suggested by the book’s title — “Smile.”

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?


DOYLE: “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens. It’s going to be one of my favorites. I’ve read all his other novels, but I kept this one back. I don’t know why. I wake early in the morning. That’s when I get a lot of my reading done. I make a cup of coffee and read “Bleak House.”

BOOKS: How early?

DOYLE: This morning at 6 a.m. I read for possibly an hour and a half each morning. I got into the habit of waking early when my children were very young. I read a lot, and it’s always been part of the rhythm of my life. I wouldn’t go anywhere without a book. I have a car, but I’d rather use public transport and always have a book with me. I’ll fall asleep reading on the train.

BOOKS: Have you ever missed a stop?

DOYLE: Yeah, the most recent was while reading Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” I missed two stops. The book is brilliant, but it could have been shorter.


BOOKS: What did you read before “Bleak House” that knocked you out?

DOYLE: A Norwegian novel, “The Unseen” by Roy Jacobsen, about a family living on a tiny island off the coast of Norway in the early 20th century. I seem to read a lot of European fiction translated into English. Before that I read a short novel, Ralf Rothmann’s “To Die in Spring.” It’s about two teenagers in the last stages of the World War II who end up being in the SS. It’s terrifying reading, but it’s absolutely a brilliant book. I’ve also been reading a lot by the English writer Elizabeth Taylor. She was a contemporary of the other Elizabeth Taylor, and I think that is one of the reasons she is neglected. She’s extraordinary.

BOOKS: Do you read mostly contemporary fiction?

DOYLE: I do, but I also like to fill the gaps. For instance I felt ignorant for not having read Vasily Grossman. I felt ignorant that I hadn’t read “The Trial” by Kafka. I recently also reread some of Flannery O’Connor’s stories. There’s an Irish writer I revere, Flann O’Brien. I reread his books regularly. One book I want to reread in the next weeks, which I haven’t read since I was a child, is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” I suspect it’s not just a children’s book.

BOOKS: Are there Irish writers you wish were better known in the US?

DOYLE: Is Sebastian Barry well known? He should be. Claire Keegan. She’s one of the best short story writers in any language.


BOOKS: Besides novels what other kinds of books do you own?

DOYLE: I have a shelf or two of music books. I love Greil Marcus. I have a gang of his books. I think I have all Peter Guralnick’s books. His take up a good bit of space. He doesn’t do pamphlets. I have some football, as in soccer, books. The house is full of bookshelves. I did a cull recently, and it’s still ongoing. That’s heartbreaking, like “Sophie’s Choice” on acid. I had everything by Elmore Leonard, and I decided to just keep his best.

BOOKS: Do you have any reading habits?

DOYLE: I seem to read a lot of women’s work. I think that is because I’m aware of them now. When I was a young man I didn’t really know of any other than Virginia Woolf and George Eliot. I was a 16-year-old at a Christian Brothers school in Dublin, and we had to do “Persuasion” by Jane Austen That would put you off the early 19th century. It took me a long time to recover.

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