‘International literature remains hugely underrated’ … Hisham Matar. Photograph: Awakening/Getty Images
The book I am currently reading
I have been reading one poem from On Balance, Sinéad Morrissey’s excellent new collection, every night before falling asleep. I have only recently come across the work of the Moroccan essayist Abdelfattah Kilito. I am now on Thou Shall Not Speak My Language. He is marvellously intelligent and witty.
The book that changed my life
The uncensored version of The Arabian Nights, with all its sex and strangeness and horrible intrigue, was read to me when I was too young to understand much of it and so it bled into my consciousness, which is perhaps why I am as suspicious of it as I am trusting. I have since found its ghost lurking in Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad and Jorge Louis Borges, among others.
The book I wish I’d written
I have studied with covetous admiration In Search of Lost Time, a book that has expanded my sense of the world and did so in ways that did not seem to bring me out of myself but rather deeper into it. One of Proust’s many gifts is to make you feel smarter, finer and capable of greater sensitivities than you perhaps ever assumed. For me, no novel contains as many ideas or as much pleasure and delight.
The book I think is most underrated
International literature remains hugely underrated and, as a side effect, English books are often overrated. About 1.5% of books published in the UK and 3% of those published in the USA are works in translation. And the sales are often dismally modest. This impoverishes culture and nourishes narcissism. Put very simply, it is boring and dangerous.
The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Probably Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, because it tricked me into thinking I should have a go.
The book that changed my mind
The letters between Flaubert and Turgenev as well as the diaries of pianist Sviatoslav Richter all taught me something about what it might mean to live in accordance with one’s mentality.
The last book that made me laugh
Thomas Bernhard’s My Prizes: An Accounting. I adore this Austrian author: he infuriates, amazes and amuses me in equal measure.
The book I couldn’t finish
So many. I am greedy and extremely impatient. I want style and pleasure and ideas; I want poetry and philosophy; I want a book that has come through fire bearing gifts. This means I am very narrowly read, and that most of my reading is actually rereading. So the tally so far is a poverty of tears and patience.
The book I most often give as a gift
Borges’s Selected Poems. And I also like to hunt for rare editions of old favourites. It’s all in the hope that someone I care about might read the exact lines and feel the same thing. It sometimes happens.
The book I’d most like to be remembered for
Something about this question makes me uncomfortable. It’s like someone tapping your shoulder when you are midway through a daydream.