I am currently reading The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk. He's a foreign correspondent who has worked for various British newspapers, including The Times. It's a story of how we got where we are at the moment in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's told through his experience. It's over a thousand pages long. It's hard to pick up! I was interested to read something extremely literate and extremely readable about imperialism. The "defense of democracy" slogan doesn't hold water anymore, I'm afraid. I have read The Wife by Meg Worlitzer, which is a very good book. Very short and straightforward.
The best book I've read this year is J.G. Farrell's Troubles, which is an old book from the '70s that is set in Ireland after the first World War. It has a feeling of its time – it reads a bit like Ford Madox Ford, or someone like that – but it's also very contemporary, which is a hard trick to pull off, I think. The main character, someone known as the Major, comes back from the first World War to this sort of rundown Irish hotel where he has a fiancée from a very hastily made engagement during the war. He goes back to see her again, and she dies. He stays on, even though she has died. It's very funny, and it's very tragic at the same time. It's a book written with a great feeling.
I've been reading a lot of Jane Austen as I've just written a short introduction to The Watsons, which is a Jane Austen fragment [of a novel]. I just read A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. I enjoyed it!
I've been listening a lot to Patty Griffin, who I really like. I think she writes great lyrics but at the same time has a great voice. Everyone records Patty Griffin songs but I had never actually listened to Patty Griffin herself until this year. She's on a par with Gretchen Peters, because Gretchen Peters has a great voice. I like Tift Merritt.
You can hear great classical music at the Edinburgh Festival. I took my daughter to see The Magic Flute, a performance that was absolutely stunning. They did all of Beethoven's symphonies, one after another, at tea time during the festival, so I went to see the fourth, and the eighth, and the ninth. I took my daughter to see the ninth as she hadn't ever been to a performance of it. I've been listening to Beethoven's Quartet's again.
I watched The Proposition, an Australian movie – very violent. It has Guy Pearce in it and it's written by Nick Cave. It makes you really glad that you didn't live in Australia in 1870, or whenever it was. It's about a law officer in Australia who captures a gang and persuades one of the gang that if he kills his older brother, he will save his younger brother from hanging. That is the proposition. Very well acted, especially Ray Winstone and Emily Watson. I also watched 16 Blocks, which was okay. Mos Def is really in it because he's a slightly better actor than Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis has three expressions – which he uses to great effect – or perhaps two, or even one! Walk the Line was much better than I expected it to be. I thought Joaquin Phoenix really should have got the Oscar as well because he gave a great performance. I can't see why they gave it to Reese Witherspoon as they should both have had the Oscar. It very unfair when you have an equal partnership on film and one person gets it and the other doesn't.
I like watching my TV on DVD, I must say, as I don't like eking out an episode a week. We're waiting for 24. We just love "24" in this house, I have to say. Every woman loves Jack Bauer, there's no way around it. All other men fall by comparison. The greatest treat of all will be when The Sopranos comes out on DVD as "The Sopranos" is the best thing that ever was on television. The last series of The West Wing arrived today. [Aaron Sorkin] is a great writer and ... "The West Wing" dropped off after he stopped writing it. But still, it is sad to see the greatest American president go.
• "One Good Turn" is published by Little Brown. Visit twbookmark.com for dates of Atkinson's book tour.