My 10 Favorite Books: Irvine Welsh

By Irvine Welsh
New York Times
March 17, 2017

For his bookshop and website One Grand Books, the editor Aaron Hicklin asked people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were marooned on a desert island. The next in the series is Irvine Welsh, the author of the book “Trainspotting,” which became a film in 1996. “T2 Trainspotting,” the sequel, opens in theaters today.

Ulysses,” James Joyce

Read this book in every one of my adult decades and got something different from it each time. “Ulysses” isn’t a novel, it’s a life project, and like life itself, we embark upon it striving toward understanding it.

“1982, Janine,” Alasdair Gray

“Lanark” is widely and justifiably regarded as Gray’s masterpiece. But I love this novel and its protagonist; masturbating, alcoholic, conservative Jock. It shows the dismal outcome of a life that succumbs to fear, but is still somehow an uplifting book.

One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Gabriel García Márquez

It’s an easy pick. Music in the form of words. It’s every western pseudo-lit-lover’s cliché of a “spiritual third world novel” that I almost hate myself for loving it, but I do.

“Cities of the Red Night,” William S. Burroughs

It’s fashionable to read “Naked Lunch,” proclaim Burroughs as a genius, sometimes dip into “Junky,” and forget the rest. The truth is that Burroughs’s best novels were the ones he wrote in the later years of his life, like “The Western Lands, and this beautiful work.

“A Disaffection,” James Kelman

Still the most satisfying of Kelman’s novels. I reread it recently, and it seems to have gained even more potency through time. We’ve all been Patrick Doyle, going into a place of work, and even through your life, and feeling hopelessly, utterly miscast.

“Pimp,” Iceberg Slim

This biography, written with a novelist’s stylization, was an incendiary moment in western culture. Ironically, it became the weapon that would win the cultural wars for dispossessed black, urban America. It’s impossible to think of what street culture of white Hollywood would look like without it. Slim is the most influential writer in English since Shakespeare.

“The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

This has the harsh tone of fictionalized life, and Jay Gatsby’s experiences draw heavily on Fitzgerald’s descent into alcoholism, and his wife Zelda’s succumbing to mental illness. Nobody in the English-speaking world has been able to write sentences like this author.

“Underworld,” Don DeLillo

This was the book that made my John Updike collection pretty much superfluous. In one big, sprawling, ambitious novel, DeLillo captures the soul of white America at its most optimistic, soaring and sad — an amazing achievement. You can read this and look at what the country is now and cry tears.

“The Football Factory,” John King

I was hooked from the opening sentences. This is the most important English novel since Orwell put pen to paper.

“American Psycho,” Bret Easton Ellis

Along with “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk, here are the two novels from the end of last century which have not been overtaken as the seminal works in defining America in this century. One deals with the out-of-control greed and power lust of the 1 percent, the other with the lost generations of the 99 percent — poorer than their parents for the first time in American history. Read them together and you have the USA.

Back to John King’s Author Page