Photo: Sean McGrath
James Mullinger’s Literary Highlights Range from English Classics to Atlantic Canadian Non-Fiction
The former British GQ editor and New Brunswick-based comedian name-checks Virginia Woolf, Irvine Welsh and Nancy Reagan on his list of favourite books / BY Shinan Govani / June 9th, 2022
“Perhaps I was always meant to be Canadian,” James Mullinger writes in his recent memoir, Brit Happens. A coming-of-middle-age story, it traces his droll trajectory: from trekking around the world of glamour and celebrity while on the masthead of British GQ for 15 years to his unlikely move to New Brunswick for love and family, all while making strides as a stand-up comedian. Ups, downs, and everything in between: this is what we get.
Long before he set out to write, he was reading, of course. Here, Mullinger – who recently appeared on CBC’s radio show, The Debaters – catches us up on his book loves, past and present.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
From Showing Off to Showing Up: An Impostor’s Journey from Perfect to Present by Nancy Regan.
One of the most beautiful, powerful, inspiring memoirs I have ever read. Nancy Regan is, of course, an Atlantic Canadian icon – a person so many of us look up to. And when she skillfully and seemingly effortlessly interviewed everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Madonna to Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe on CTV’s Live At 5, which at its peak was bringing in a quarter of a million viewers every night, she appeared to be the most confident person imaginable. This – it transpires in brutally honest prose – was not the case, and this bizarre dichotomy is outlined in profound detail in this memoir /self-help book.
I must also mention Jon Tattrie’s Peace By Chocolate, about Tareq Hadhad and his family business, Peace By Chocolate.
The story of the Hadhad’s journey from Syria to Antigonish, N.S., has been adapted into a well-received movie, but the book – in which award-winning journalist Jon Tattrie ensconced himself into the lives and minds of the Hadhads –is so powerful that I believe it is destined to be remembered as a non-fiction Canadian classic.
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
Ali Hassan’s memoir Is There Bacon in Heaven?, which lands in September this year. Ali is one of those unique people who can do it all.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
I have to pick two, and they are two books that I became obsessed with in my first year studying English Literature and Women’s Studies at Kingston University in England. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi. I have read Trainspotting more than 50 times and believe it to be the best book about friendship and moving on ever written.
What book completely changed your perspective?
A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf was life changing for me. I read it aged 18 and it taught me everything I needed to know at that age about feminism and patriarchy. More recently it taught me how to write a book:
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Alan Hollinghurst is Britain’s greatest living author and The Line Of Beauty, his masterpiece. You could say that this is a strange choice for me to make, because I have actually had dinner with Hollinghurst about a decade ago, but it is an experience that I would like to repeat. No one writes about the city of London the way Hollinghurst does, and wandering around the city streets at dusk after feasting at the Sanderson – looking up at buildings as he described what might be going on behind those windows in those architectural marvels – is something that will stay with me until the day I die.