Brought to Book: Anakana Schofield on parallel reading, the literary patriarchy and books as portals

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Anakana Schofield is the author of the award-winng debut novel, Malarky, which is out now in paperback, a funny and moving tale of sexual shenanigans, martital discord and mental disturbance in the west of Ireland.


What was the first book to make an impression on you?


The Bunny Fluffs Moving Day, a Ladybird book about a bunch of bunnies moving house in a laundry basket and all their belongings tumbling into a river. It was read to me by my lovely mother Hannah, who grew up to become a farmer of Kerry cows and a great advocate for the bee population in Mayo. I think the moving house and tumble into the river were a predictive metaphor for the fact I am unlikely to ever own a house and still cannot swim. I do, however, own a copy of The Bunny Fluffs Moving Day, because I treated myself to an old copy I found online.


What was your favourite book as a child?


I think a very dog-eared library book about gymnastics. At that time, we used a mobile library van and the selection was limited. I read Enid Blyton’s girls’ boarding school novels, which mocked kids from my type of background! But they were full of strong female role models and friendships amidst all the poor-dissing and tuck boxes. (What is a tuck box?)


And what is your favourite book or books now?


What a terrifying question! How to isolate such a thing? My reading approach is peculiar, I often inter-read or parallel read books, so they tend to give way to each other, sit beside each other and they become important to each through their interrelation. I have about 20 books, many of which are out of print, very obscure to begin with even when they were in print, that somehow have individually and collectively given me important departures as a writer and hopefully a thinker. The work that has most recently been invigorating includes Anne Carson, Thalia Field, Cesar Aira, Clarice Lispector, Georges Perec (mostly because I am about to teach a workshop in a school on Oulipo, so cheers Georges for helping me with this job.)


What is your favourite quotation?


“No choice but stand. Somehow up and stand. Somehow Stand. That or groan. The groan so long on its way. No. No groan. Simply pain. Simply up.” Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett.


And closer to home broadcasting on my everyday channel at the blue kitchen table: “Nobody cares, Mammy, nobody cares.” My 14-year-old son.


Who is your favourite fictional character?


I like Shannon in Taxi by Helen Potrebenko, a 1970s feminist, Vancouver novel. I like her polemics while she is driving her taxi and navigating the streets. I like Dorothea in Middlemarch. Also, I really like The Tenants of Moonbloom fellow – I want to create a resurgence of interest in this 1963 NYRB Classics book, so please read it and send me a flare.


Who is the most under-rated Irish author?


I don’t “rate” authors over or under. I find this one-upmanship of “ranking” unsettling. Literature is a continuum. Books give way to books. I also don’t read based on the geography of where someone happens to be born or live. Irish literature can feel overly patriarchal, with an awful lot of noise made repeatedly about the same male writers who tend to likewise make noise about each other. I admire many of our bilingual Irish women writers such as Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Áine Ní Ghlinn.


I also miss very much the contributions to this newspaper of Mary Cummins, Mary Raftery and Mary Holland, all of whom I read in my 20s. I truly admire any writer who keeps going, since there are certainly sufficient reasons not to. I think the most under-rated Irish author is likely entirely unpublished, writing between several jobs, multiple children, an unwell parent and a dog with a prolapsed bladder.


Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?


I’m up for both. If I become curious about a book I must read it immediately and ebooks offer that immediate access. If struck I will buy a print copy because my brain likes a more tactile engagement and I usually mark them up. I’m very optimistic about new technology and have these notions of books becoming portals. (I hasten to add not a single other person appears to agree with these notions). I look forward to even more immediacy and being able to download a book onto my fingernail and the supersonic eye enhancer that will permit me to read it.


What is the most beautiful book you own?


It’s a toss up between Beckett’s Dream Journal, a book the University of Reading published which cost me $75.75, and a bunch of found on the side of the road books. Beauty is such an odd qualifier. Perhaps they’re not entirely beautiful these books, but they represent blind faith: one is a history of the railway in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, written by a self-published railway historian called Phyllis. I also love my just bigger than your palm, Modern Library type books. I have Stevenson’s essays, Madame Bovary and Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley. Again, completely random finds.

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