Hisham Matar: International literature is hugely underrated, while English books are often overrated

The British-Libyan writer on an uncensored Arabian Nights, why Proust makes you feel smarter – and the diaries of a pianist that changed his life.

Hisham Matar in The Guardian:

3000The book I am currently reading
I have been reading one poem from On Balance, Sinéad Morrissey’s excellent new collection, every night before falling asleep. I have only recently come across the work of the Moroccan essayist Abdelfattah Kilito. I am now on Thou Shall Not Speak My Language. He is marvellously intelligent and witty.

The book that changed my life
The uncensored version of The Arabian Nights, with all its sex and strangeness and horrible intrigue, was read to me when I was too young to understand much of it and so it bled into my consciousness, which is perhaps why I am as suspicious of it as I am trusting. I have since found its ghost lurking in Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad and Jorge Louis Borges, among others.

The book I wish I’d written
I have studied with covetous admiration In Search of Lost Time, a book that has expanded my sense of the world and did so in ways that did not seem to bring me out of myself but rather deeper into it. One of Proust’s many gifts is to make you feel smarter, finer and capable of greater sensitivities than you perhaps ever assumed. For me, no novel contains as many ideas or as much pleasure and delight.

More here.