Tim Key’s top 10 bite-size books

On the shortest day of the year, with scant shopping hours left to Christmas, the comedian recommends books that won’t detain you long

Squirrel nibbles a seed

Little nuggets … A fox squirrel in the snow nibbles on a seed.

Tim Key is a 33-year-old who works in the broad arenas of poetry, comedy, general, film and bookwriting. His first book sold out almost immediately (small print-run) and led to him becoming the resident poet on BBC4’s Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe (ever so cool). He also became resident poet on Mark Watson’s radio show (Radio 4) and had his poetry published in Vice magazine (niche) and Reader’s Digest (different niche). He then went back to the café and wrote a second, altogether less coherent book. Instructions, Guidelines, Tutelage, Suggestions, Other Suggestions and Examples etc concerns descriptions of photographs and maps, and the possibilities that may be contained in a fiddler’s noggin.
This year Key has co-penned and starred in Cowards and We Need Answers (both BBC4) and a Christmas Special of his much-loved Radio 4 comedy drama All Bar Luke. Key is a mess.

“A list of books which should be easily accessible around the house, to pick up, poke your beak into for a couple of minutes, and put down again.”

1. Incidences by Daniil Kharms

Daniil Kharms was a Russian loon who scribbled in the 1930s. His material is dark and loopy in equal measure, full of repeated actions and plenty of death. It’s troubling – there’s a strong impression the guy had a number of screws extremely loose – but it is also compelling and hilarious. The Tale of the Plummeting Women is an obvious highlight.

2. Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

Rhodes writes short stories which are 101 words long. He writes 101 of them. Every single one is beautiful, funny and impressive in equal measure. The pieces in Anthropology are all about flawed relationships; all flawed in eccentric and delicious ways.

3. 100 Facts About Pandas by David O’Doherty, Claudia O’Doherty and Mike Ahern

Everyone loves a panda fact. This cheeky little hardback exploits this; plonking 100 of them next to each other – all spurious; all beautifully illustrated; all funny. Panda Fact 24 claims that panda milk is deadly to any animal other than the panda. So it’s a useful book, too.

4. Elephant by Raymond Carver

Just short stories. But the best short stories ever written. Carver’s a master of the genre. Carver writes with incredible economy. Nothing much happens. And yet we watch the character’s lives change irreparably before our eyes. American, too, so he uses phrases like “he fed it some gas”. Nice.

5. Schott’s Miscellany by Ben Schott

Bit of an obvious one. It’s Schott’s Miscellany, innit. Everyone got one for Christmas in 2005. But it is, still, essential to have round the house. Google’s only realistic competitor these days, it’s important not to allow our attitude to Schott to be destroyed by all these other books with similar covers but about the minutiae of, say, food or Harry Potter.

6. The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

Another spot of Russian. Russian short stories are mental and Gogol wrote some real humdingers. This is the saddest and my favourite. About a titular clerk (obviously) who saves up his money to get a new overcoat and turn his life around. It goes quite well for him for a bit. But then Gogol leaves us all devastated.

7. This Book Will Change Your Life by Benrik

Clever lunatic combo Benrik stick the best bits of This Diary Will Change Your Life together to create a big thick selection of things to do. Watching Someone Sleep is one of them, as is Freelance as a Traffic Warden. So there’s an argument for enjoying the bitesize entries rather than using it as a basis for sweeping lifestyle changes.

8. Facts and Fancies by Armando Iannucci

Iannucci’s brain is clearly as big as a fridge so he is capable of making eye-popping televisual satire and feature films. But you can’t put a feature film in your bog so this book plugs a gap. Iannucci lets his hair down and has a lot of fun with the English language as he gets his head round things like queues and noise.

9. The Timewaster Letters by Robin Cooper

Deranged, misguided Cooper writes speculative letters to people with far less time on their hands than himself. Often they are provoked into using some of this time to reply to Cooper. Cooper then writes back himself. And so it goes on. Cooper’s an astonishing, dreadful man and his targets are imaginatively picked. Sometimes you feel for the poor man who’s wasted an hour writing back but only between volleys of cruel laughter.

10. The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd

This was always on my old man’s desk. A real dip-in-and-out-of classic. Adams and Lloyd have found some funny place names. Adams and Lloyd have assigned some funny definitions. Adams and Lloyd have evidently had a lot of fun. A warm, very English book.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/dec/21/tim-key-top-10-bite-sized-books