My life in books: Comedian Spencer Brown

Spencer Brown. Image: Steve Ullathorne

Spencer Brown. Image: Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Archant

As the Lip Service presenter releases his second novel, The Lockdown Diary of Tom Cooper, he reveals the books that have shaped him

The book I loved as a child...

I was constantly reading as a child, but I wasn’t from a particularly bookish family. Instead, I was on a steady diet of superhero comics, old Beano annuals and the back of cereal packets. That said, there were a few novels that gave me the moreish sensation that got its hooks into me and made me a lifelong reader – The Hobbit, The Demon Headmaster… and some terrible paperback about a plucky gang of BMXers. I have a sneaking suspicion it may have been the novelisation of the film BMX Bandits, and was hanging round my local library well past its sell-by date. But it’s given me the belief that it doesn’t really matter what boys are reading, as long as they’re enjoying it. We can worry about upping their levels of sophistication when they’re into double figures.

The book that inspired me as a teenager...

My teenage years were when I really grew to love books. My initial thought about this was that the book that inspired me most was Great Expectations, due to having an English teacher who really drew us into the book, and showed us how great literature could be. But the actual answer is probably Footlights! A hundred years of Cambridge Comedy. I found it randomly at my local library, and suddenly decided that going to Cambridge and being in the Footlights was exactly what I wanted to do! So, I worked hard and managed to get a place, and joined the Footlights, then became a stand-up comedian and writer, and finally an author! So, if you end up reading my book and hating it, destroy all copies of the Footlights! book, as it’s 100% to blame.

The book that I’ve never finished...

I’m a big believer in not finishing books. We all have this subconscious feeling that stopping a novel halfway through is a mark of failure, but we all have so little time these days, I think it’s better to move on to something better. Reading should be enjoyable, whether that’s because you’re laughing out loud or seeing the world in a new way, or simply lost in a great story. It means the only books that I haven’t finished that I actually remember are the ones that I loved, but got pulled away from in some way due to the vagaries of life. My big two are Jane Eyre and Dune, both of which are constantly calling me back, but whose temptations I resist in the hope that I can forget a little more of the plot if I wait a little longer, and so experience them with fresh eyes when I do. But there’s a Dune movie coming out (not to mention a Jane Eyre one from 77 yeas ago), so hopefully they’ll be making their way to my bedside table this winter.

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The book that moved me...

There’s nothing quite like a book stirring up big emotions, but I want to feel like the books earned it, otherwise I just feel a bit manipulated. I read One Day by David Nichols recently (about a decade too late), and that had me tearing up, but afterwards I just felt a bit cheated. The tragedy that takes place seemed to be too random. It would have been fine if that had been the theme of the book, but it wasn’t and even though it got me, I would have preferred if it had felt more integrated. For me a better example is in one of my favourite books, Flowers for Algernon. It follows a man undergoing an experiment where his intelligence improves, and he begins to understand how he’s been treated up to that point. It tugs at the heart strings in a way that feels really earned, and even though it’s technically sci-fi, it’s so human that I don’t see how even the most sci-fi-phobic of readers couldn’t love it.

The book I’m reading now...

I’m currently reading The Green Man by Kingsley Amis. Because I’m writing comedies, I decided to go back and read some of the classics. Lucky Jim, which I loved, was my introduction to Amis, so I’m now moving onto some deeper cuts. It’s a weird mash-up of ghost story and sex-comedy and doesn’t 100% work, but it’s got some brilliant jokes, including one bit where the main character proposes a threesome to his wife, but loses his enthusiasm when she agrees but describes it in the most prosaic way imaginable (‘…like having the plot of Romeo and Juliet summarized by a plasterer’s mate’). In both of his books that I’ve read, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of watching the hero bumble through life, but somehow end up all right in the end. Maybe it’s because it’s the same type of feel that my Tom Cooper book has, but maybe it’s because that’s how most of seem to stumble through our lives!

The Lockdown Diary of Tom Cooper by Spencer Brown is out on November 12 in paperback, published by Marotte, rrp £7.99.

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