The first of a series where we invite our favourite writers, thinkers, politicians or cultural figures to share their passions, pet hates and predictions.
What’s your earliest memory?
Sitting up in my pram and making my mother’s women friends laugh. What I can’t remember is what I said that was so amusing.
Who was your childhood hero?
Mario Lanza [the American singer and film star], until he died after eating 15 breakfasts at one sitting. I’ve been wary of heroes since.
What was the last book that made you envy the writer?
If you mean envy the talent, Joseph Roth’s journalism, published as What I Saw. He made melancholy poetry out of everything he saw.
What politician, past or present, do you look up to?
I don’t as a rule admire politicians, but in recent months Kenneth Clarke has been admirable – for being principled, witty, rational, and right.
What would be your Mastermind special subject?
It would win me no friends to say the late novels of Henry James, so I’ll say Mario Lanza, with special reference to The Student Prince, which he was too overweight to appear in (see above), but sang the songs.
Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?
Dr Johnson’s London, just to listen to him talk.
What TV show could you not live without?
Family Guy. It’s not only the funniest programme on television, it’s the most wonderfully, indecorously literate.
Who would paint your portrait?
Ralph Heimans has just done it. Otherwise Rembrandt.
What’s your theme tune?
Leo Fuld’s “Wo Ahin Soll Ich Geh’n” – in English, “Where Can I Go?” – a schmaltzy song of wandering Jewishness at which I used to guffaw in order to conceal the fact that it made me weep.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The painter Sidney Nolan once told me I tried too hard. Advice I’ve been trying hard to follow ever since.
What’s currently bugging you?
The word “bremoaner” and the phrase “get over it”. Passionate dissent from the will of the multitude should be respected, not derided.
When were you happiest?
I am happiest now. There’s nothing like running out of time to make you realise you’re in the right skin, with the right person, and that the Apocalypse will happen with or without you.
What single thing would improve your life?
The promise of immortality.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Writing is the only thing I can do, but I would love, otherwise, to be a lyric tenor and make the women cry whom I once made laugh.
Are we all doomed?
Unless someone can find a way of closing down social media, yes.
Howard Jacobson’s “The Dog’s Last Walk (and Other Pieces)” is published by Bloomsbury. “Pussy: A Novel” is published by Jonathan Cape in April. He appears at Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the NS, on 21 April.
This article appears in the 15 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain