Reading Confessions: J David Simons

Category: Reading

J David Simons is a Scottish author, originally from Glasgow. He has written several novels, the most recent of which is An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful, published by Saraband Books this year.

But which celebrity would he most like to throw a book at? Find Simons' answer to this and other essential literary quandaries by reading on.




Do you ever mentally edit someone else’s work while you read? 

I think it depends. If the book starts out badly and I lose immediate confidence in the author’s competence, then yes I do mentally edit while I read. However, if I am straightaway convinced of the author’s command of his/her work, then I can relax into the novel and put my editing mind aside. Of course, I find myself editing my own published work all the time, especially when I am doing public readings.

Do you judge books by their covers? 

I think I am influenced by the negatives of a cover rather than the positives. Most of the time when I enter a bookshop I already know the book I want. However, if I am browsing at random I might be put off buying a book because of some unappealing aspect of its cover. On the other hand, I do not think I will be persuaded to buy a book, just because it has an attractive cover. 

What’s your opinion on reading in the bath? 

Reading in the bath is a bit like making love on a beach. It is a very pleasing and romantic notion but in reality it is full of impracticalities. The steam curling the paper, trying to turn the pages with wet fingers, finding a place to put the book while attempting to top up the hot water. Personally, I prefer a shower.

How do you react to bad reviews? 

I find them very hurtful and my first reaction is to hit back. However, once I have calmed down I appreciate that there is nothing to be done. I have put my book out into the public domain and I must suffer the consequences, good or bad. What bothers me though is if the review itself is sloppy or badly written or is more about the reviewer than my book.  In those cases, I note down their names just in case we end up on a sinking ship together and there are not enough life-jackets to go round.

Which author or fictional character would you most like to party with? 

My ideal author to party with would be Tim Winton. He is a fabulous Australian writer, not so well known in this country, who has authored such wonderful books as Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath. I have never met him but I believe he lives or has lived in some small town on the coast of Western Australia. I imagine going surfing with him, later on kicking back on the beach with a couple of beers, watching the fish grill on the barbecue and the sun setting across the ocean as we chat about writing and life.

How do you arrange your bookshelf? 

Having lived in many places with dodgy bookshelves, I used to arrange my books by weight. However, because I used to move around a lot, I decided ten years ago that I was spending too much money on shipping my library from place to place when it would cost me less to just replace any book if and when I needed. So I sold almost all my books. It was a very liberating experience. Now I only keep books that are from author friends, gifts or a few classics like James Joyce’s Ulysses and Don DeLillo’s Underworld.

Do you ever turn to the back of a book and read the end first? If not, what would you say to such people? 

I never read the end first. I think it is especially disrespectful of the writer’s craft to think that somehow the ending is more important than anything else. I worry also if someone would do this with my latest novel, An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful, as the last twenty pages are actually from a novel within the novel and therefore completely different from the rest of the book.

If you could throw a book at a celebrity which book would you throw at whom? 

I would like to throw Celebrate at Pippa Middleton but I hope it would miss her (it is not her fault) and hit the commissioning editors at her publishers Penguin and their Michael Joseph imprint. I think it is ridiculous to invest £400,000 on Middleton’s party book when Penguin could have used that same amount to provide a decent living to at least 20 far more deserving writers.

Is there a book by someone else that you wish you’d written? 

I would have liked to have written Treasure Island. It is such a fantastic rip-roaring adventure story with universal appeal that has yielded up so many iconic characters and images. It also has one of the best opening sentences ever written. The novel also possesses that wonderful quality of not only making the reader feel warmly towards the book but also towards the person who has written it.

Is there a book you have never been able to finish? 

Only one and that was The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. As with Orson Welles in cinema, I believe that Rushdie created his best work first with Midnight’s Children and then it has been downhill for him ever since. The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a pompous, superficial and arrogant novel with lazy writing, hollow characters and epitomizes Rushdie’s vain attempt to be thought of as cool. I literally threw it away.

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