David Mitchell chooses his reference books, music and films

David Mitchell, 52, is the author of several bestselling novels, including Cloud Atlas. Born in Southport, Kent, he has lived near Clonakilty, Co Cork, for 17 years. In 2007, Time magazine named him one of its 100 most influential people in the world. In 2013, Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida translated Naoki Higashida’s memoir, The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism. His latest novel Utopia Avenue is published by Scepter. Upcoming projects include a collaboration with singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, which will be performed at DeBarras in Clonakilty.

As a child, I had a library of hard-hitting novels that I read over and over again. Today I’ll be quoting Penelope Lively’s The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, about a boy who unleashes the bottled ghost of an alchemist and has to deal with the impossible consequences. I still remember the scenes and lines 45 years later. What a wonderful book.

The trilogy of revolutions

I read John Banville’s trilogy (Copernicus, Kepler and The Newton Letter) in Japan in 1996 in a dizzying 36-hour frenzy. They were a formative masterclass in style. Each line is thought out and polished, forcing me to imitate this thoroughness, this respect for the reader’s time, this strange love of this matchmaker for these things called words. Yes, sometimes the sky is just blue, but it’s up to us to test the alternatives first. I’ve never met the author in person, but if you’re reading this, John – thank you.

A female point of view

Joni Mitchell’s Blue provided my first set of female perspectives on freedom, love, art, relationships, and life. I’m embarrassed to admit how ignorant I was of the entire female half of humanity – in every way imaginable, including the one you think of – but I was created for decades of sexist dominance by male accounts of everything. The blue was the start of a correction process that lasted a lifetime. (Sexism doesn’t hurt men the same way it hurts women, but sexism is bad for men too.) Blue is also a great art that nurtures whoever it is. either, anything, anytime.

Sergeant Pepper

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles is the first pop / rock LP that is also a journey, or a journey (wink); that does not contain a lazy load or bridge second; which consciously treats the LP as an art form in its own right, rather than a container for storing individual songs. It’s brave, strange, glorious, experimental, melodic.

My favorite concert

I recently saw John Spillane, just him and his guitar, at the back of the De Barra Folk Club in Clonakilty. I was 10 feet away. It was the first post-containment concert for the 30 participants. He sang We Come In The Wind and my imagination layered over the vocals and backing arrangements of the studio version. Swallows were flying above us. Candles twinkled on the tables. Condensation was dripping on the outside of my Murphy’s glass as it warmed in the air. From time to time, this delicate life matter is unambiguous happiness, like. Woo woo.

David Mitchell with John Spillane in DeBarras, Clonakilty.

AND the alien

I saw Steven Spielberg’s ET at the Malvern Winter Gardens cinema in Worcestershire the month it was released. The moment you think the big-eyed, slender-fingered slaughterer is of course dead … but then the flower comes back to life, protagonist Elliot, you and all the other surreptitious mourners in the cinema realize that all is not lost.

I remember thinking, “But this is just a story! It is not real! Then: “But these emotions are real… that means something… what? I’m still working on the answer, but it’s something to do with Neil Gaiman’s maxim: “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.

The right story

One of the favorite films of so many films is The Straight Story by David Lynch. Family, love, self-knowledge, penance, the assertion that so deeply ingrained a grudge might seem, you can throw it away in the blink of an eye if both of you – or hell, if only one of you – is brave enough to say, “This is getting us nowhere and we deserve more.

Mr. Benn

I remember early on getting mumps and watching a cartoon from the early 1970s called Mr. Benn. I watched him on the couch! With a glass of Robinson’s barley puree, the chic thing! It was a matter of being badly awkward! In each episode, Mr. Benn would visit a costume store, try on a new costume, and walk through a magical door to a country appropriate for the costume of the week. Here, he righted a wrong by using kindness and what we would now call emotional intelligence. I think of Mr. Benn as a metaphor for fiction. You don a costume, go on an adventure, and return to find yourself and the world subtly altered.

The golden age of TV

We’ve had some great streaming TV shows over the past 20 years. For breadth, depth, play, complexity of narrative, staging, authenticity of language, characterization, addictive qualities and ideas – that is, pretty much everything – The Wire , who stood on the shoulders of the Sopranos, is the best of them.

Enjoy art exhibitions

When I see a panting from Van Gogh, Vermeer, Howard Hodgkin or Mark Rothko in a museum, I immerse myself in it like a hot bath and float in it for a while. My son rushes insistently to the Crawford Galley when we are in Cork, so I see each exhibit, usually two or three times. (Thanks to his autism-friendly gallery staff, if you’re reading this.) My favorite Isaac Meyer’s History of Japan podcast. What it says on the tin. A box that has now reached epic proportions in about seven years. A majestic labor of love.

What I enjoy most about life and culture in West Cork

  • Acceptance of the difference: Many Corkonians, when they meet a child with autism, respond with a few variations: “Ah sure he’s tall he’s just a little different you should meet my cousin from Killarney now he’s the right square enough. … ”In a larger context, the same spirit explains the result of the referendum leading to the 2015 marriage law. I have never been so proud to be part of this society.
  • Self-sufficient power: in the UK, too often, ‘doing something’ means ‘demanding it from advice and abusing advisers if they don’t or can’t provide it’. Here people are going to form a committee, fundraise, appeal and do it themselves: Surf2Heal, Ardfield Rathbarry Playground Committee, Tidy Towns, West Cork Animal Welfare Group, all the countless others, you know who you are and you are ireland.
  • Respect and common ownership of the language: People here are not intimidated by high level language. They don’t put him down. They will use it as and when they need it, and applaud others who do and say, “Well said. The twice elected head of state is a poet. No wonder Ireland is a literary superpower: you can hear vernacular literature in every bar, kitchen, GAA sideline in the country. It’s in the cultural DNA. As for the language, moreover, the music too.

About Monty S. Maynard

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