Douglas Stuart Doesn’t Need Three People at His Dream Dinner Party

From a New York Times By the Book interview headlined “Douglas Stuart Doesn’t Need 3 People at His Dream Dinner Party”:

What books are on your night stand?

I’ve been itinerant lately, so I tend to carry my reading everywhere I go. Right now, I’m trying to make sense of the forces that misshaped me, so I’m reading “The Reformation: A History,” by Diarmaid MacCulloch, and “The Scottish Enlightenment,” by Arthur Herman. I’m dreaming of going back to 18th-century Edinburgh. In fiction, I’m loving the gastronomic dystopia of “Land of Milk and Honey,” by C Pam Zhang, and the perfectly crafted “Biography of X,” by Catherine Lacey. I’ve been trying to learn the art of the screenplay and to that end, I’ve been rereading the scripts for “The Hours” (adapted by David Hare from Michael Cunningham’s novel) and “Prick Up Your Ears” (adapted by Alan Bennett from John Lahr’s biography of Joe Orton).

What’s the last great book you read?

“Old God’s Time,” by Sebastian Barry, is truly superb.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

“The Leopard,” by Tomasi di Lampedusa, a tale of Sicilian society in decline. I asked a friend what her favorite book was and she recommended this. I knew once I’d read it that I had excellent taste in friends.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

A great book can make any reading experience ideal. I once hunkered down in my poky Florentine hotel and missed much of the city because I was so engrossed by Maria McCann’s “As Meat Loves Salt.” It’s a gutsy historical romance set during the English Civil War, about two conscripts who fall in and then violently out of love.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

I am fascinated by the irredeemable hero at the center of Alexander Trocchi’s “Young Adam.” It is a claustrophobic study in how men and women can use each other, a frank look at sex as a means of survival.

Your novels are set vividly in your native Glasgow. Are there Scottish writers you wish had a wider readership outside of Scotland?

I take great pleasure in the work of Graeme Macrae Burnet, Andrew O’Hagan, Jenni Fagan, James Robertson and Louise Welsh among so many others. I love the mother and son dynamic in “Gentlemen of the West,” by Agnes Owens, the twisting of the Frankenstein story in “Poor Things,” by Alasdair Gray, the unapologetic heroine in “Morvern Callar,” by Alan Warner, and the gothic, weird, gender bending in Iain Banks’s “The Wasp Factory.” I wish everyone would read “The Trick Is to Keep Breathing,” by Janice Galloway. Galloway writes with an unflinching intimacy in this tale of a woman mourning the death of her married lover. And not enough people have read James Kelman’s Booker winner, “How Late It Was, How Late,” which is a masterpiece of dialect but also one of the most audacious novels ever written.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

For the first four years of our relationship, I lived in London while my husband lived in Chicago. We were impoverished students who couldn’t afford long-distance calls, so we read the same books to feel closer to each other, and our first pick was Genet’s “Our Lady of the Flowers.” It was sexy and full of yearning. I’m not saying we were inspired to trace around our erections and mail the results to each other. But I will say we were 21 and living in a time before sexting.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I live and die for character. I appreciate any novel that leaves me with that feeling of “no, don’t go yet.”

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

It’s a balance of both. I am often in awe of authors’ craft and intellectual rigor, but if they also make me feel something, if they have pierced what it means to be a human, then I will cherish their work rather than simply admire it.

How do you organize your books?

Librarians will hate this answer: but I went to art school and I’m a very visual thinker. So, color works for me, and if you ask to borrow a book, I can always find it quickly.

Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?

I came out when I was 16, and my family were very understanding, considering it was the early 1990s. I bought Mark Simpson’s “Male Impersonators” and left it lying around the house without bothering to read it. Such a boldly queer book was a controversial thing in our home; in fact, any book would feel a little out of place.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

I regret that I never met Hilary Mantel. I would be delighted with three of her.

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