Journalist, author and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove tells Marianne Taylor about the books that shaped him.

Favourite book you read as teenager

I remember reading Nathaniel West's A Cool Million and being really blown away with its parody and savage humour. My English teacher Mr Hopkins announced to the class that he was going to recommend the best American books of the 20th century then threw in the tantalising line "many of which have been banned due to sexual content". It was a ruse to get us to listen but I wrote them all down. It turned out to be a brilliant list: Last Exit to Brooklyn, Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird were among them. For some reason, A Cool Million stuck in my mind from his list, I think because of its brilliant subtitle – The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin. It's very contemporary still, a book that parodies the many conceits of a character like Boris Johnson.

What was the first book that made an impact on you?

That would be Walter Scott's Fair Maid of Perth. It's very unusual to have a major novel written about the small town you live in. I used to mark up in pencil all the people and places I could still trace. My mum used to work in a children's clothes shop that was in the same block as one of the heroes of the book – Hal o' the Wynd. You could walk up this medieval close where he lived and worked. It made you feel really close to history. The central heroine character Catherine Glover's house is still there and the set-piece battle that frames the story happened on the North Inch, which for two years was my school playground.

Which books have made you laugh?

There is a novelist in Sri Lanka with the pen name Ashok Ferrey who writes satires about rich people with poor taste, social-climbing Sri Lankans and the pathos of immigration. His book Colpetty People made me laugh. It is a hilarious take-down of modern day snobbery.

Favourite character

I have always loved Studs Lonigan, the character from James T Farrell's great depression trilogy. It's set in the Irish-Catholic Southside of Chicago but much of it hinted at my own upbringing in Scotland and I always liked the name. It would be a great pseudonym.

Least favourite genre

I know this is a hanging offence for some but wild horses wouldn't drag me to fantasy books. I'm not interested in Game of Thrones or The Fellowship of the Ring. Not for me. I went to Dubrovnik recently where they have Game of Thrones souvenir shops on every corner. I avoided them like a seven kingdom's plague.

Book you wish you’d written

Ulysses by James Joyce so people would always claim they had read my book when you suspect they haven't. I read it at university but cheated. There's a brilliant companion, The New Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamires, a line by line explanation of what's going on. I felt a heel reading them simultaneously but you don't climb Everest without a Sherpa.

Book you think is overrated

I've tried really hard to get into Rabbit Redux by John Updike but failed miserably, and rather than blame myself I've tended to blame Updike. So many people I respect lavish praise on the Rabbit books. Joyce Carol Oates has called Updike one of the most gifted American realists but I have never felt his works are that great. Sometimes I feel that this pursuit for the ultimate American novel can be a journey to self-congratulation.

E-reader or print?

Print every time. I have e-books dating back to the first clunky Kindles but I love the tactile feel and smell of print. I love going into book shops too, the more disorganised the better. Many people will try to mount the argument that e-readers have the element of stumbling on things but I've never felt that. I even like the rushed moment when your plane is about to depart and you've got only five minutes. I love grabbing a book and the randomness of choosing something you might not otherwise buy.

Where do you like to read?

My partner has a villa in Sri Lanka which looks out onto a lagoon called Ratgama Lake. If you get the settee in the right angle you can watch the fishermen in their wooden longboats and balance a cup of tea on the table. I could lie down there and read all day long. Not even a remaindered copy of Tam Cowan's Jokebook could spoil the serenity.

Last book you didn’t finish

I didn't finish Garrett Graff's The Only Plane In The Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, despite its historic importance. It's a brilliantly researched and emotionally dense book which simply became too much. It was a draining read but a hugely worthwhile book.

Last book you read

I have just finished Manda Scott's A Treachery of Spies, set in Arisaig and Orleans, France, as a war-time unit of the French resistance provokes a series of modern day murders that ignite memories, old grudges and modern spy craft. It's a great book and reminds us of the quality and diversity of Scottish crime fiction. Scotland is living through a cultural highpoint in crime writing which academics will study for decades to come. This one breaks with the conventions of the police-procedural investigation and has a female detective investigating modern evidence and buried historical clues. First class.

Favourite three novels

They are probably all American mid-century classics which suggests I need to get out a bit more. So in no particular order, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here.

Favourite three non-fiction books

I want to pay tribute to books which have helped me write the Soul Trilogy. First up is The Algiers Motel Incident by the formidable John Hersey, which tells the gruesome story of how a rogue unit of Detroit Police officers murder four black boys in the final hours of the Detroit riots. It influences a chapter of my book Detroit 67, and the entirety of Kathryn Bigelow's film Detroit. Then there is the autobiography of Afeni Shakur, the mother of Tupac Shakur, who was one of the leading female Black Panthers and a leading character in the final book Harlem 69. I owe them all a debt of gratitude. But by far the best non-fiction is Steve Silberman's Neuro Tribes: The Legacy of Autism. It argues that building a neuro-diverse society is up there with ecology as a fundamental challenge for all our futures. Brilliant book.

Favourite Scottish book

Okay, it's a cliché but I'm going with Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song. Every time a dodgy guy comes to Chris Guthrie's door she calls him a "muckle tink", an expression that would now fall foul of travelling people decorum. It is a book for now with a powerful female central character and Scots language that defies the cringe.

Most interesting or unusual use of a book

I once produced a live show for Channel 4 which was a review of Madonna's book Sex. The publishers refused to release a review copy until midnight, so the show featured a courier driver in a brooding bike-helmet bringing it on to the set and the reviewers unpacked the parcel and responded at first glance. It had all the virtues of a live television event.

The third part of Stuart Cosgrove's Soul Trilogy, Harlem 69: The Future of Soul, is out now on Birlinn.