The Good Books, Hugo Rifkind: ‘Good Omens is the funniest book ever written, and it gets no worse as I get older’

Journalist and author Hugo Rifkind on the best books he’s read in the last year, being inspired by Stephen King and reading on the tube. 


The first book I remember reading:

Aside from picturebooks it must have been Stig Of The Dump, by Clive King. The story of a cave-boy living alone in an informal scrapyard in Kent. I loved it, and was captivated, and wished I had a cave-boy living at the bottom of my garden, too. Although these days I think, hmm, social services?

A book I recommend to everyone:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s just the funniest book ever written, and it gets no worse as I get older. I was a little disappointed by the TV adaptation because it didn’t have that eerie 1970s British vibe. But 35 years after first reading it, at any given time, 90 percent of the thoughts in my head are lifted straight from this.

The best three books I have read in the last year:

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – I know everyone else read this last year. It’s just so good on youth. The dive into America’s rural opioid crisis is of course what made it make the headlines. But behind that, it’s just a brilliant story of lost teenage years.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin – Everyone else read this, too, but still. As a journalist, though, I write a lot about tech and I’ve always thought ‘nobody could write a novel about this world that wasn’t esoteric and unreadable’.  Shows how wrong I was. 

The Story of the Forest by Linda Grant – A generational story about Latvian Jews who come to Liverpool, it manages to be epic and cosy at the same time. Parts of it are hilarious, but it’s also a story about stories; about how we decide which supposedly definitive family tales are important, and which ones we jetison. It really stuck with me.

A book I didn’t finish:

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris – It was a bit of a shock. It’s always a letdown when an author you trust doesn’t deliver the goods. This one is set in a future that feels like the past, and has almost nothing to do with its own title, and feels a bit unfinished. 

An author who has inspired me:

Until recently I’d always have said Douglas Adams, because I’d never have wound up writing as I do without him. I wonder, though, if that’s more true with my journalism than my fiction. For the latter, I’ve always loved the sentimentality buried in the books of Stephen King, which I think is much more interesting than the horror he’s known for. Along with Iain Banks, he’s probably the author who made me want to be an author. And Donna Tartt is obviously the master of taking all that grabby, compulsive stuff and turning it into literature.

My favourite place to read:

I do a show on Times Radio every Saturday, and I always read fiction on the tube on the way home afterwards. It’s my most peaceful and precious time of the week.


Hugo Rifkind is a columnist, critic and leader writer for The Times and a presenter on Times Radio. He was born and raised in Edinburgh, studied in Cambridge, and now lives in North London in a house where everybody else speaks German, including the dog. His book Rabbits  (Birlinn) is out now and can be bought here.


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