Reading Confessions: Christopher Brookmyre
Bestselling Scottish crime author Chris Brookmyre knows his way round a tight plot, and is pretty handy with a punchline too, but has he ever cried in public at a book? Read on to find his answer to this and other pressing questions as he enters our reading confessional.
Please note: Chris's answers contain some strong language and strong opinions.
Do you ever mentally edit someone else’s work while you read?
I was a sub-editor for seven years, so it is almost a reflex to mentally edit just about all the prose I read. This extends to my own work, so I can be reading it aloud at a festival and realise something could have been phrased better but as it’s already in print, it’s a little late to get out the yellow marker.
Do you judge books by their covers?
Unavoidably. Any book, for instance, that contains the words “Jeffrey Archer” where the author’s name belongs, is obviously going to be awful. Anything featuring a quirkily-drawn shopping bag is probably not going to make it onto my reading list either.
Which book has the most disappointing ending?
I remember feeling utterly bereft at the conclusion of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams when I was about twelve, when Arthur and Ford were left stranded on prehistoric Earth. At that age it bizarrely hadn’t occurred to me that there might be more to come, so I was ecstatic when I walked into a bookshop a year or so later and found the freshly published paperback of Life, the Universe and Everything.
Have you ever cried in public because of a book?
I recall blubbing on a train reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart when Logan Mountstuart returned to his house after World War II. I also howled at the end of The Amber Spyglass, but I was in the privacy of a holiday apartment.
How do you react to bad reviews?
I am less concerned with whether a review is good or bad than whether it indicates that the reviewer truly engaged with the book, rather than giving a quick summary of the plot and then a thumbs-up or thumbs down in the final paragraph. Consequently, many of the genuinely considered negative reviews have been more satisfying than the rather cursory positive ones.
Have you ever said no to sex because you just had to finish your book?
I wouldn’t say no to sex because I had to finish running away from a volcanic eruption.
Where do you stand on spinebreaking?
Well, I saw The Dark Knight Rises last summer, and apparently you can recover from it in a matter of weeks without any medical treatment. There’s no excuse for it in paperback, however. You have a thumb. Use it.
What’s the worst/trashiest book you secretly love?
I think that by definition, if a book has qualities that make you love it, then it ought never to be described as trashy or bad. We often trudge through acclaimed works with a sense of duty and obligation, without saying that their abject lack of pace or charm made them “bad”.
What’s the most over-rated book of all time?
That’s a two-way tie between the Bible and the Quran. Seriously, if you’re going to base your entire existence upon what you read in just one book – one book – then maybe you should opt for something slightly more up-to-date, given that human society does tend to change a wee bit over the course of the odd thousand years. Also, please choose one with a little less emphasis on violence, thirst for power and fucked-up sexuality.
Do you ever turn to the back of a book and read the end first? If not, what would you say to such people?
Er, no. I would tell them they’re holding it upside down.
Is there a book you have never been able to finish?
I am in that far from exclusive group of people who have attempted The Silmarillion at various stages in their lives, only to give up after about twenty pages having found no viable indication that a story might be waiting somewhere further ahead.