The lovely Amber over at A PhD in Poetry recently shared her list of ‘7 books that had an impact on me’. I really loved reading the tag so I thought I’d join in (P.S check out her blog/follow her if you don’t already, she’s an insanely talented writer).
I found it very hard to narrow down my choices to just 7 but here they are:
1. Wise Children by Angela Carter
Although I love the book itself, I’m pretty sure this is one of those situations where you love a book even more simply because of a really fantastic teacher teaching it. At 16 years old, from a working class and ethnic minority background, I would never have understood all the Shakespeare references on my own. Wise Children is a clever work of art, and full of nostalgia as it forms one of my earliest memories of enjoying English lessons.
2. The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
This is the second book in the Regeneration trilogy and while I loved all three, this was my favourite. Pat Barker blends fiction with nonfiction by writing about actual figures from World War I (Sassoon, Owen, W.H.R. Rivers). This book has stuck with me perhaps because I suffered so much alongside the characters and all these years later, I still remember the emotional impact of the plotline linked to the title.
3. The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany
Even though many may argue that Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building (also made into a hugely popular film) is a better translation, I preferred this book out of the two. It is witty, tragic, full of colourful characters…it is one of the few books that can make me cry. Set in post-WW2 Egypt, it depicts the impact of the British rule on the lives of ordinary people working at The Automobile Club. Oh, and it has such a satisfying ending (I won’t give it away).
4. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
We were going on holiday in 2011 and I packed this into my luggage thinking ‘Oo, pretty cover’. Little did I know the significant role this book would play in my life. The whole time I was reading it, I had this sense of deja vu as though I knew the story from before. I’m not the kind of reader who enjoys re-reading books but I’ve read this 4 times since 2011. Today, I am a huge fan of Shafak and really love her novels but it was this one, her debut novel, that made me consider becoming a writer myself.
5. The Whiteboy Shuffle by Paul Beatty
If Shafak’s novel sparked my desire to write, it was while reading this book that I actually put pen to paper. A mix of prose, poetry and satire, this novel is a funny, clever story about race and class in America. My favourite part is when the gang dress up in drag to drive-by and shoot at a rival gang; it made me think of Mercutio from Baz Luhrmann’s modern version of Romeo and Juliet.
6. Heer by Waris Shah
Heer is a poetic masterpiece that has been an inspiration for singers, artists, painters, filmmakers, actors and more for hundreds of years (even I was inspired by it when I wrote this). Understandably, the story has become somewhat watered down and for a long time, I thought Heer Ranjha was just another tragic love story like Romeo and Juliet or Laila Majnu. But the truth is far from it. The original text, written in Punjabi poetic form, is full of rich metaphors, symbolism, allegory…think John Milton’s Paradise Lost meets Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It is more than a tragic love story, it is a metaphor for spiritual love. When I’m short of inspiration, I listen to, watch and read all the various renditions of Heer.
7. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
And finally, I thought I’d end this post with my favourite Shakespeare play: Hamlet. I’m not even going to apologize, I think this is the bard’s best play. I will forever be haunted by Franco Zeffirelli’s production starring Mel Gibson and I love Hamlet even more for all of its spinoffs (to name a few: the Simpsons, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, and Margaret Atwood’s Gertrude Talks Back). Sadly, I’ve only had the chance to teach it twice and hope to someday teach it in depth and do justice to it.
Which 7 books had an impact on you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.