Life stories: Michael Marra
What was your favourite book as a child?
Oor Wullie and The Broons and books about Dundee United were fixtures. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia. I wrote a letter to CS Lewis with some ideas for further sequels. I read just about anything. I asked for a lamp for Christmas so I could read all night when the house had gone to bed.
Which fictional character did you most identify with as a child?
Peter Parker. An awkward wee guy stuck on the outside of everything, beset by guilt, torn by dilemmas and with a vivid fantasy life. So Spiderman. That’s me.
Is there a book which got you into politics?
If I’m being literal it would be The Bible. Catholic social teaching was Alpha and Omega. Poverty and injustice the gravest offences. As a teenager I read Benn and Marx and lots of left standards. I have a bit of a Lincoln obsession and David Herbert Donald’s biography of him probably did more to interest me in elected politics than most books.
Which book couldn’t you finish?
All the usual ones: Ulysses, A Brief History of Time, Piketty’s Capital. I beat myself up about it less than I used to. I love Dumas, but The Count of Monte Cristo has sat on the shelf 850 pages in for years now. The aristocratic Paris stuff was too dull. Wolf Hall was overwritten and I could not break it. My greatest fear as a child was dying half way through a book. I’ve chilled out. A bit.
What is your favourite novel and why?
Classics: Beloved, Catch 22, Austerlitz. Loved more recently: For Kings and Planets by Ethan Canin, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, Normal People by Sally Rooney. The novel I have read most is The Rachel Papers. As a teenager it was a life plan. Twenties: painful. Thirties: hilarious. I identified strongly with Charles and see a lot of my adolescent self in him.
Is there a book you would recommend to other MSPs?
Anything and everything by Michael Lewis. Particularly Flash Boys. I’ve actually done this already whilst boring a couple of new colleagues. The Cicero books by Robert Harris are brilliant for anyone interested in politics. I give people Don Paterson’s poems more than any other books: Nil Nil or Rain.
Which book would you be embarrassed about others seeing on your bookshelf during a Zoom call?
My wife bought me a novel for my birthday once from a man with a stall in Waterstones. It was a self-published number detailing his rejection by his wife and his plans to make her jealous. I expect it may be produced as evidence in a court case against him some day. My lovely wife felt sorry for him. I keep it because you don’t throw books away, do you?