Raf Manji (Image: Archi Banal)
Raf Manji (Image: Archi Banal)

BooksSeptember 27, 2023

The book Raf Manji wishes he never read

Raf Manji (Image: Archi Banal)
Raf Manji (Image: Archi Banal)

Welcome to The Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits and quirks of New Zealanders at large. This week: TOP leader Raf Manji.

The book I wish I’d written

The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver. It covers much of what I’ve been thinking about for the last 25 years: financial disruption, economic breakdown and geo-political shifts set within in a very middle-class family that has benefitted from the current system. Shriver, in her usual didactic manner, eviscerates the family structures that have grown up around that system and leaves the whole place in tatters.

Everyone should read

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson because this is what’s coming. The shocking first chapter makes up for the somewhat random plot lines. It has enough in it to suggest that this is not a far-fetched scenario, as we are seeing weekly around the world.

From left to right: the book Raf Manji wishes he’d written; the book he thinks everyone should read; and the novel he wishes he’d never laid eyes on.

The book I want to be buried with

The complete works of Haruki Murakami (please).

The first book I remember reading by myself

One of the Famous Five or Secret Seven books.

The book I wish I’d never read

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It was grim and made me so angry. I couldn’t even finish it.

The book I pretend I’ve read

Like everyone, I used to say Ulysses but since hardly anyone has actually read it, I’m off the hook there. I did read the Odyssey though, which was much more accessible and more fun too.

Dystopia or Utopia?

Dystopia – more realistic!

Fiction or nonfiction?

Bedtime (fiction) or daytime (nonfiction). I try to avoid nonfiction at night as I’m trying to get the thinking part of my brain switched off for sleep and sweat dreams.

It’s a crime against language to… 

I’m a big Nicola Barker fan, going back to her first book, Reversed Forecast (1994), and she often challenges with her plots and language structure. But I really struggled with her 2017 book H(a)ppy. The premise, like Dave Eggers’ The Circle, was highly provocative and contemporary but I found the language and stylistic approach challenging and often infuriating.

The book that haunts me

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. See above.

The book that made me laugh

Anything by Michel Houellebecq. He describes the absurdities of modern life and culture with Gallic precision and penetrating irony. It’s hard not to laugh at the hopelessness his protagonists manage to convey while attempting to navigate a world crumbling around them.

The book I wish would be adapted for film or TV

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – if it’s half as good as the film version of The English Patient it would be a masterpiece. I’m sure the same cast could switch over, maybe adding Brian Cox. It’s a very filmable book and I hope that will happen at some point.

The best thing about reading

It takes you out of yourself and opens your imagination. It is a hopeful undertaking, helping us daydream about other things, other people and other lives. As long as we have books, there is hope for us all.

From left to right: the novel Raf Manji thinks should be adapted for film; the one Nicola Barker book he does not care for; and the short story collection he’s reading right now.

Best food memory from a book

I enjoy Murakami’s food descriptions. Food is often irrelevant to the plot but it has enough detail to be interesting. Food is an important part of our daily life and yet is often and afterthought to most books. People have to eat three times a day, so let’s hear about it!

Best place to read

Any sofa! There is nothing better than curling up on a comfy sofa and transporting yourself to another realm. I do read before lights out every night but afternoon reading is also a joy (not much of that at the moment though!).

What are you reading right now?

Return to Harikoa Bay by Owen Marshall. I enjoy his writing and his short stories are lovely to dip into. Have just finished Lioness by Emily Perkins, which was a good read, especially with the Wellington background. Also have a Tom Clancy on the go as well. Hard to beat his geopolitical thrillers.

Keep going!