Mark Haddon: ‘The only books I wish I’d written are better versions of my own’

The book I am currently reading
Homie by Danez Smith, Rusty Brown by Chris Ware and Ice by Anna Kavan, to name only the top three on the pile.

The book that changed my life
The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. Technically, it’s the book of a TV series about the role of science in the development of human society. I was 11 when I first saw it, and I can still feel the thrill of watching a great door swing open on to a world of ideas.

The book I wish I’d written
The only books I wish I’d written are better versions of my own.

The book that influenced my writing
It was by Patrick White, certainly. The Cockatoos, perhaps? I was 14, and I have no idea why I took it from the shelf in the school library. I remember only the revelation that poetry and prose weren’t two different things.

The book I think is most overrated
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Ditto every other piece of torture porn masquerading as entertaining crime fiction.

The book that changed my mind
In my first year at university I read Germaine Greer, Kate Millett and Andrea Dworkin, and realised that pretty much everything I had been told about the way society worked was upside down, which was both shocking and thrilling.

The last book that made me laugh
Am I revealing too much about myself if I say that I was hugely amused by Claire Tomalin’s description of the horrific operation Samuel Pepys underwent to remove his bladder stone? If we classed it under “nervous laughter” does that make it sound any better?

The book I give as a gift
Serendipitously, I’ve just been offering spare books to locked down neighbours. Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature and Daisy Johnson’s Fen were snapped up quickest.

My earliest reading memory
Diggy Takes His Pick, a picture book from 1964, written and beautifully illustrated by Racey Helps, which still radiates a low-level warming glow even after 50 years. It’s less the story than the images of Diggy Winks, the mole, asleep in his cosy underground home. Part of me still wants to live there.

My comfort read
The Wind in the Willows. Only later did I discover that Kenneth Grahame wrote it for his son, Alastair (nicknamed Mouse), who was born premature and blind in one eye. Grahame indulged him hugely, turning him into an egotistical monster. Toad, in fact. Hence the fact that Toad is simultaneously deeply lovable and utterly unbearable. Mouse would later end his life by stepping in front of a train only a few hundred yards from where I now live.

Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise is published by Vintage in paperback, eBook and audio. To order in paperback go to Delivery charges may apply.