Scottish writer Irvine Welsh shot to fame when his debut novel Trainspotting was published in 1993. Hailed as the enfant terrible of contemporary lit, his books are characterized by their no-holds-barred look at Edinburgh’s underbelly – drug addiction, class wars, endemic violence and all.

Heavily influenced by the rave and club culture of the early ’90s, Welsh credits house music and Scottish storytelling for his distinct approach to dialogue:

“I grew up in a place where everybody was a storyteller, but nobody wrote. It was that kind of Celtic, storytelling tradition: everybody would have a story at the pub or at parties, even at the clubs and raves. They were all so interesting. Then I’d read stories in books, and they’d be dead. I got to thinking that it had a lot to do with standard English. I mean, nobody talks like that in cinema, nobody talks like that on television, nobody sounds like that in song. In any other cultural representation, we don’t talk like that, so why do we in the novel?”

Sharing a list of his ten favorite books with NY-based bookstore One Grand, Welsh included classics by James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, William S. Burroughs and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Find his favorites below, and complement with the reading lists of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis.


Ulysses by James Joyce (also rec’d by Bret Easton Ellis, Gabriel García Márquez & Jim Morrison)

“Read this book in every one of my adult decades and got something different from it each time. “Ulysses” isn’t a novel, it’s a life project, and like life itself, we embark upon it striving towards understanding it.” -IW

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray

“Lanark is widely and justifiably regarded as Gray’s masterpiece. But I love this novel and its protagonist; masturbating, alcoholic, conservative Jock. It shows the dismal outcome of a life that succumbs to fear, but is still somehow an uplifting book.” -IW

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (also rec’d by Joan Didion & Richard Branson)

“It’s an easy pick. Music in the form of words. It’s every Western pseudo-lit lover asshole’s cliché of a ‘spiritual third world novel’ that I almost hate myself for loving it, but I do.” -IW

Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs

“It’s fashionable to read ‘Naked Lunch,’ proclaim Burroughs as a genius, sometimes dip into ‘Junky,’ and forget the rest. The truth is that Burroughs’ best novels were the ones he wrote in the later years of his life, like ‘The Western Lands,’ and this beautiful work.” -IW

A Disaffection by James Kelman

“Still the most satisfying of Kelman’s novels. I reread it recently, and it seems to have gained even more potency through time. We’ve all been Patrick Doyle, going into a place of work, and even through your life, and feeling hopelessly, utterly miscast.” -IW

Pimp by Iceberg Slim

“This biography, written with a novelist’s stylization, was an incendiary moment in western culture. Ironically, it became the weapon that would win the cultural wars for dispossessed black, urban America. It’s impossible to think of what street culture of white Hollywood would look like without it. Slim is the most influential writer in English since Shakespeare.” -IW

Underworld by Don DeLillo

“This was the book that made my John Updike collection pretty much superfluous. In one big, sprawling, ambitious novel, DeLillo captures the soul of white America at its most optimistic, soaring and sad — an amazing achievement. You can read this and look at what the country is now and cry tears.” -IW

Football Factory by John King

“‘Coventry are fuck all. They’ve got a shit team and shit support. Hitler had the right idea when he flattened the place.’ Yes, I was hooked from the opening sentences too. This is the most important English novel since Orwell put pen to paper.” -IW

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

“Along with ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk, here are the two novels from the end of last century which have not been overtaken as the seminal works in defining America in this century. One deals with the out-of-control greed and power lust of the 1%, the other with the lost generations of the 99% — poorer than their parents for the first time in American history. Read them together and you have the USA.” -IW

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (also rec’d by David BowieFlorence WelchHaruki Murakami & Hunter S. Thompson)

“This has the harsh tone of fictionalized life, and Jay Gatsby’s experiences draw heavily on Fitzgerald’s descent into alcoholism, and his wife Zelda’s succumbing to mental illness. Nobody in the English-speaking world has been able to write sentences like this author.” -IW
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