‘It isn’t the recognised job of literary critics to make you cry, but some of them do that’ … Aravind Adiga. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian
Books that made me

Aravind Adiga: ‘The book I wish I’d written? Whatever Hari Kunzru is publishing next’

The White Tiger author on Shakespeare, Clive James and sulking over Michael Chabon


The book I am currently reading
Jonny Steinberg’s One Day in Bethlehem. He is one of my heroes. His books, carefully researched, lyrically composed, probe deep into his native South Africa, but end up illuminating the entire world. In his latest, he tries to reconstruct an apartheid-era crime to find out if an innocent man was sent to jail.

The book that changed my life
My mother’s copy of the collected works of William Shakespeare.

The book I think is most underrated
I’m surprised that House of Snow, an anthology of the greatest writing about Nepal, didn’t receive more attention. Nepal’s physical beauty, troubled history, and ethnic complexity are incubating some of the most interesting writing in South Asia. The authors featured – including Samrat Upadhyay, Manjushree Thapa, Thomas Bell and Prawin Adhikari – should be better known.

The book I wish I had written
Whatever Hari Kunzru is publishing next.

The book I couldn’t finish
William T Vollmann’s Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means. And I was reading the abridged version.

The last book that made me laugh
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers by Roger Lewis.

The book that made me cry
It isn’t the recognised job of literary critics to make you cry, but some of them do that. I’m thinking of a few of Clive James’s essays, like the one on Raymond Chandler; and of Harold Bloom on Walt Whitman. Tony Tanner’s The Reign of Wonder, which explores the quest for innocence in American literature from Twain to Hemingway, is a gem. And his introduction to the Penguin edition of The Great Gatsby leaves you in tears even before the novel begins.

My comfort read
The Hungry Tide, my favourite Amitav Ghosh novel.

Your earliest reading memory

An illustrated copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam we had at home. I’ve been searching for that edition in secondhand bookstores around the world.

The book I am most ashamed not to have read
I just read it. When The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay came out, I was an intern at a newspaper and wrote to Michael Chabon asking for an interview. He declined. After sulking for 20 years I gave in and read the book over Christmas. It turns out to be as wonderful, inventive and wise as everyone has been saying it was for two decades. Chabon, though, is not forgiven.

The book I give as a gift
There are very few good books about money. Each is a treasure that should be shared with friends. Written during the Great Depression, Fred Schwed Jr’s classic Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? still tells the truth about the people you trust to look after your money.

• Amnesty by Aravind Adiga is published next week by Picador. To order a copy go to Free UK p&p over £15.