Andrew Pippos is a Sydney-based writer, author and creative writing lecturer. His first novel, Luckys was published in 2020 and shortlisted for the 2021 Miles Franklin literary award. I read and adored his debut earlier in 2021, and was thus thrilled when he agreed to take part in my Desert Island Books series. From his favourite collection of short stories to the book he cites as the perfect novel, read on to find out which books he’d take with him to the sandy shores of a desert island…
Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
It really is a perfect novel – it’s a mutli-generational novel about three generations of a family and it’s also a story about the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It explores themes of fatherhood and masculinity and failure and it’s also a book that’s had a massive influence on Luckys. It’s a book that is epic in terms of timeframe, but it’s not epic in terms of page length, like Luckys, so in a way it acted as a model for me.
The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick
An American writer; I think Cynthis Ozick is one of the most beautiful prose writers around. I think that The Puttermesser Papers is Cynthia’s best book, and it reminds me a lot of Nabokov, and particularly his book, Pnin. In the way that it’s almost like a story within a story.
The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
The Charterhouse of Parma really helped me in many ways when it came to writing Luckys. The first seventy pages of this book – called The Waterloo Sequence – is my all-time favourite piece of writing; it’s about a young man from Lake Como who runs away to join Napoleon’s army because he’s young and stupid and thinks Napoleon has good ideas. He joins the French army right before the battle of Waterloo which is very bad timing; it’s a piece of writing that I re-read from time to time, and I just love it.
George Mills by Stanley Elkin
Published in the 1980 – I suppose you would call this book a historical novel – it begins around the time of the second crusade and it’s all about these people that have the name George Mills. It’s a book that spans many, many centuries, and I can’t think of a book that’s more epic in terms of time frame. What I really love about it is how Elkin is just an absolutely beautiful writer; it’s quite amazing what he can do with language.
Praise and 1988 by Andrew McGahan
They’re both set in Brisbane and are about a character named Gordon; he’s on the dole, he smokes a lot of cigarettes and he has terrible love affairs and they’re both really amazing books – especially to read in your twenties, but I re-read them both recently and loved them just as much.
The Collected Poems of Russell Edson
Every poem of his is this ridiculous concept that he takes to its conclusion, and I find them all very amusing.
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
A writer I’ve loved since I was a kid, the big story for me is always The Aleph, which is about a man who discovers this tiny orb of light in the basement of his friend’s house. And in that orb, you can see all things that have ever happened at once. I love it – it’s also a story about being a writer and rivalries and grief but what it’s really about is a man getting over a broken heart. It takes him about four or five years to do so, but that’s the character arc of the story, which makes it quite a local and intimate work of fiction.
Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson
I think Menin the Off Hours is my favourite of Anne Carson’s books, she writes beautiful, funny poems and brilliant essays which are often about classical literature. I think my favourite poem from this book is called Essay on What I Think About Most, which is written almost like an essay, but it’s in verse, and it’s about an ancient spartan poet and the problem in one of the fragments of his manuscript. But really the subject of the poem is about making mistakes and how people respond to error and the errors that we make in our lives.
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