Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Trevor Griffiths

picks the eight books he'd take to the ends of the earth with him

November 29, 2009
5 min read

Ulysses

James Joyce

Penguin Classics, 2000

Joyce came into my life in 1951, when I was 16, in the shape of Ulysses, which I read in sixth form as an optional vacation assignment, and which gave me my first deep introduction to literary modernism and literary Ireland. Both have printed their mark on me ever since. Stream of consciousness was my preferred form of prose for several years – I even used it in the French essay paper for A-level. I can’t think of a better writer in English than Joyce, and the mighty, comic, endlessly inventive Ulysses is probably his best work.

The Making of the English Working Class

E P Thompson

Penguin, new ed 2002

I read this in the early 1960s, around the time it was published – and the time I met Edward at a New Left summer school in west Yorkshire. The book and the man became close friends thereafter. No book has made a deeper impression on my sensibility; no book has enabled me to see my own life and history more clearly. What separates it from most social history is its command of language and – for want of a better word – its poetry. Discussing historical movements and people who ended up getting the future wrong, he argues we must ‘rescue them from the enormous condescension of posterity’. Precisely.

The Country and the City

Raymond Williams

Oxford University Press, 1975

A long, painstaking and beautiful examination of English literature in the search for shifting images of ‘country’ and ‘city’ through history and the often class-freighted and ahistorical meanings we give them. I challenge anyone to read his first chapter and not be eager to go on. As with Joyce and Irishness, so Williams with Welshness: two national cultural elements in my own background that have resonated within my own thought and work.

Slaughterhouse 5

Kurt Vonnegut

Vintage, new ed 1991

For me one of the most important English-language novels of the 20th century, Slaughterhouse 5 tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a US soldier who survives the Dresden bombings and becomes ‘unstuck in his time’, living his life in a random order and repetitively. It combines an extraordinary realism with a wild and dangerous delight that possessed me in the 1970s and beyond like a virus and still hangs on, unshakable, in my writing and thinking and feeling. Years later, trying to write The Gulf Between Us, about three Brit workers trapped in Baghdad during the first Iraq War, I slowly realised it came straight from Kurt Vonnegut. I challenge anyone to read the final chapter and not weep.

Camera Lucida

Roland Barthes

Vintage, new ed 1993

As the 1970s’ promise of a scruffy utopia gave way to the buffed dystopia of the 1980s, I decided to look for a second (shorter) creative form and lighted on photography, a search that brought me face to face with Barthes’ masterpiece. Ostensibly a philosophical analysis of photography, it resolves halfway through into a deep and painful examination of Barthes’ long dependent relationship with his recently dead mother. No one of a certain age can read this book and not feel a memoir coming on.

The Rattle Bag

Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney (eds)

Faber and Faber, 2005

Five hundred and more poems from four corners and five continents make up the best poetry anthology you’ll ever encounter. I send copies of it out each Christmas; and there are three copies strewn about the house in case I feel a sudden need of it. In the words of the editors: ‘This anthology amassed itself like a cairn … each poem full of its singular appeal, transmitting its own signals, taking its chances in a big voluble world.’ A gem.

A Life in Letters

Anton Chekhov

Penguin Classics, 2004

I’ve been reading Chekhov (letters, stories, plays) since the 70s, when Richard Eyre bought me his Selected Letters as companion on my travels into my new English version of The Cherry Orchard. This new volume, much enlarged and with excellent notes in a brilliant translation, confirms that Chekhov is in the first rank of writers, thinkers and human beings.

The Angel of History

Carolyn Forché

HarperPerennial, reprint 1995

Forché is the founder of a movement known as Poetry of Witness. Some years ago I encountered her work (Gathering the Tribes, The Country Between Us, Against Forgetting) and knew at once it was important and would last. The Angel of History, published in the mid-90s, is a scarifying account of the bloody horrors that are the 20th century: war, genocide, holocaust, nuclear destruction; but one filled with love and tenderness and a warm awareness of the smallness of things. These are poems that make the earth a better place.

Radical playwright Trevor Griffiths’ A New World: A Life of Tom Paine was at the Globe theatre this summer and his Comedians at the Lyric last month

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes