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INTERVIEW/QUIZ: talkingbooks

Claire Chambers teaches contemporary literatures at Leeds Metropolitan University. Her book, British Muslim Fictions: Interviews with Contemporary Writers, was published in 2011

What are you reading these days? I’m partway through Hamid Dabashi’s The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism. As a lecturer in postcolonial literature myself, I was lured in by its provocative title. Dabashi argues that the Arab Spring has already moved “beyond race and religion, sects and ideologies, pro- or anti-Western,” and he uses the term “post-ideological” to describe the uprisings. Fascinating.

Which books are on your bedside table? Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader has revolutionised my bedside table, which is now an oasis of order in the desert of disorder that is my room. Top of my Kindle list at the moment are the manuscript version of Bina Shah’s forthcoming novel, Peter Pochmann Goes to Pakistan (it’s going to be great), Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy, and Elif Shafak’s Honour.

Which titles are on your bucket list of books? I’m a little scared of him, but I feel I really ought to get around to reading Proust.

What is the one book/author you feel everyone must read? When asked to name the three best novels ever written, William Faulkner famously replied, “Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina”. If I’m only allowed one choice, I too will go with Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.

What are you planning to reread? Because of my research interests, I mostly tend to reread Pakistani writing in English. I’ve read Aamer Hussein’s Another Gulmohar Tree at least once a year since it came out, because it’s a succinct, multi-layered, and lyrical account of the postwar marriage of a Pakistani man and an Englishwoman, with reflections on life, love, migration, politics, and art. For my holidays, I will reread Moni Mohsin’s Tender Hooks and Maha Khan Phillips’ Beautiful from this Angle, as both make me scream with laughter.

What is the one book you read because you thought it would make you appear smarter? 2666 by Roberto Bolano. He intended it to be five novels, but it was posthumously published as a single tome, and I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I’m so daunted by its heft and the tiny print that it’s just sitting there looking clever on my shelf.

What is the one book you started reading but could not finish? Most recently, I had to abandon Indian-American novelist Shilpa Agarwal’s Haunting Bombay, as I just wasn’t that into it.

What is your favourite childhood book or story? From my own childhood, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, and (as a romantic teenager) anything by K.M. Peyton. Contemporaneous with my sons’ childhood, I have been surprisingly impressed by the kids’ books written by TV comedian David Walliams. There are also some excellent books by British Muslim children’s authors: Wendy Meddour’s novel about a British-Algerian family, A Hen in the Wardrobe; Sarwat Chadda’s Devil’s Kiss, which focuses on a vampire slayer called Bilqis SanGreal; and Sufiya Ahmed’s novel about forced marriage, entitled Secrets of the Henna Girl.