My Life in Books

6 books that Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh loved reading

The bestselling novelist shares the books and writers that have inspired him over the years.

'I like books that challenge me.'

Scottish author Irvine Welsh is the author of numerous books, including Trainspotting, Filth and Dead Man's Trousers. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Irvine Welsh is a Scottish novelist and bestselling author. His debut novel, Trainspotting, published in 1993, won the Scottish Arts Council Book Award, was longlisted for the Booker Prize and became a beloved book that launched Welsh's career. Since then, he has published several novels and short stories, some of which have been adapted into feature films. His latest book is called Dead Men's Trousers.

On June 13, 2018, Welsh will join a screening of the 2013 adaptation of his novel Filth at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for a post-show conversation about his body of work and book signing.

Below, Welsh shares the books that have both challenged and inspired him over the years.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"Crime and Punishment was the first proper literary book I read growing up. It was like nothing I'd read before. The unusual morality in it sort of rang true to me. This guy who has all these consequences for this thing that he did, killing this old woman. I've read a lot of crime pulp fiction and there are often no real consequences for the people involved. The book showed me what literature can be about and what character driven stories can do. It was a very a big influence on me from that point of view."

Ulysses by James Joyce

Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) in Zurich. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"Joyce's Ulysses is one that I keep coming back to. I've read it almost every decade of my life. Not the first one, but I first tried reading it in my teens. I couldn't bear it. I tried again in my 20s and still couldn't read it. Went back to it when I was 30 and I got more out of it then. I read it again in my 40s. Every time I've read it, I've gotten more out of it. It's almost like a life project, it keeps on giving. It's just about him going around Dublin and all the characters he meets along the way. What he did with Dublin, I tried to do in my first book, Trainspotting. I tried to make the city a character in the book. I liked the way that it moved action right around Dublin. I tried to do the same in Edinburgh to a certain extent."

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough has written more than 20 novels and is an internationally bestselling writer. (

"I don't get jealous of writers that are like me. I get jealous of ones that can do things I can't do, really. I read a book recently, a thriller called Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough. It's got all these amazing, head-cocking twists. I admire that kind of mastery and skill in a writer because I don't have that myself. I try to tell a story with a couple of twists in it, but I'm not really a plot-y person. Someone who can really pull that off, I'm jealous of that. Cross Her Heart is one of the best things I've read recently."

Kill 'Em All by John Niven

John Niven attends the U.K. premiere of Kill Your Friends on Oct. 22, 2015, in London, England. (John Phillips/Getty Images)

"I like books that challenge me. I'm not really bothered about affirmation. I know what I like and I know what my world is. I don't necessarily need that to be constantly topped up. I like to be challenged and criticized a bit. 

"As a writer, you're trying to write books that do that to a certain extent. You're trying to write books that challenge your cozy, narrow view of life. John Niven's new book, it comes out soon, is called Kill 'Em All. It's about a crazy record company executive and it's a banging action satirical thriller. But it's also a proper novel about the Trumpian era, of the reality TV era, the fake news era. It's managed to say a lot of things in a way that very few other novels are doing and in a very comedic way. I hope that we see the real intent behind the novel rather than see a comedic exercise because I think it says a lot about how we live now."

Postcapitalism by Paul Mason

Paul Mason is a British author, journalist and playwright. (Paul Mason)

"The books that get me through difficult times are the ones that help me make sense of the world. It tends to be nonfiction. Paul Mason's Postcapitalism is able to crystallize all the things that are happening — the way that the economy, neoliberalism and capitalism are developing. It puts some hopeful markers for the future as well. I think it's going to be read for some time to come."

The short stories of Alice Munro

Canadian writer Alice Munro, pictured above at the Man Booker International Award in 2009, is revered around the world for her masterful short stories. (Peter Muhly/Getty Images)

"Every country offers up great literature, you've just got to get into it. You guys have the best short story writer in the world in Alice Munro. Alice Munro can write a short story with the density of the novel. I don't know how she can do that, but she can. I don't think she's capable of writing a bad story. I loved writing short stories, but I don't so much now because Alice Munro's stories are so good there's no point in me getting involved in it."

Irvine Welsh's comments have been edited and condensed.


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