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Mike Leigh’s 10 Favorite Books

Mike Leigh. Photo: Vulture and Getty Images

Bookseller One Grand Books has asked celebrities to name the ten titles they’d take to a desert island, and they’ve shared the results with Vulture. Below is British writer and Peterloo director Mike Leigh’s list.

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

This had a profound effect on me in my early 20s. A grim but sympathetic portrait of the tough lives of poor immigrant workers in the Chicago meat-packing industry, it was one of the key works that inspired me to make films about ordinary people’s lives.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

They call this masterpiece “magical realism,” but I hate the label. Real it is, human and passionate and endlessly moving and compelling. It’s about family, relationships, fate, time. And ghosts. And solitude. Marvelous.

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

For me, this is a most important work. Zadie Smith brilliantly evokes contemporary Britain with astonishing accuracy, and unique wit and charm. A book to savor.

Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, by Samuel Beckett

A massive influence. He sums up existence. He reinvents writing itself. He makes me howl with pain and scream with laughter.

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

For me, Auster’s masterpiece, and worth our waiting for. The dazzling scope of his inventiveness is breathtaking. Healthily nostalgic for us who are contemporary with his multiple central characters. A compulsive read; I found it hard to put down, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I found the negative response to the book in some quarters quite astonishing, but as the frequent recipient of diametrically opposite reviews myself, I ought to know better!

Journey to the End of the Night, by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Hard to choose between this and his Death on the Installment Plan. But Céline’s quasi-autobiography wins. Despite the nihilistic cynicism of which he is often justifiably accused, underneath it all, his characters bristle with life and hope.

The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien

My favorite of Flann O’Brien’s novels, although I love At-Swim-Two-Birds. Profound, haunting, mystical, and utterly hilarious. The bizarre narrative is accompanied by an eccentric parallel saga about something obscure called the De Selby Codex, a red herring that gradually grows in quantity until it all but obscures the main story.

To the Kwai―and Back: War Drawings 1939–1945, by Ronald Searle

Searle has inspired and influenced me since I was 6 years old. He was one of the greatest illustrators and cartoonists of the 20th century. A Japanese prisoner of war in his early 20s, he managed, often with great difficulty, to make drawings and, remarkably, to keep them. Horrifying, often moving, sometimes funny, this collection is a total joy, on so many levels.

Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens

Another influence. What characters and characterizations! How perceptively Dickens portrays our complex imperfections! And, incidentally, what a splendid picture of 19th-century America!

The Bab Ballads, by W.S. Gilbert

As the maker of Topsy-Turvy, I’m an unapologetic fan of W.S. Gilbert. “Bab” was his childhood pet name and his adult pen name. His delightful verses and drawings are a total gas, and no bathroom library should be without a copy.

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Mike Leigh’s 10 Favorite Books