It’s World Book Day, and what better way to celebrate it than to talk about how much we love and appreciate books more so than normal? I don’t remember ever dressing up for it, but I do remember dutifully using my £1 book token on whichever titles were featured that particular year as a kid. I think I’d even try and take my siblings’ tokens just so I could get another one. I was a greedy reader. Not all of the following books changed my view of the world/influenced me drastically, some just influenced me in a small way. i.e. the way I write. But I still think that this is an essential change to note. Reading books is so so essential to growth of any kind; books help us understand the world and ourselves and I’ll be forever thankful that my parents always encouraged us to read from a very young age. So here are some of the books that have influenced me in various ways over the years.
Selected Poems – Carol Ann Duffy
Published in 1993 and then in 2009, this anthology brings together some of the most prominent poems from Duffy’s 5 collections: Standing Female Nude (1985), Selling Manhattan (1987), The Other Country (1990) and Mean Time (1993) and The World’s Wife (1999). This was a set text for my A-Levels, and made me learn a lot about contemporary poetry. Poetry that wasn’t Blake or Yeats or Shakespeare, which are definitely not to be dismissed, but definitely not a huge writing inspiration for a young writer. Duffy’s topics of women, feminism, childhood, identity, alienation, love, as well her humour and clever way with words really engaged me and inspired me to write more poetry. Her poetry is accessible and relate-able. Also worth reading by her when you’re going through a heartbreak or falling in love or troubled love or love in general is her collection Rapture (2005).
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
First published in 1929, Woolf’s essay is hailed as a crucial feminist text that highlights women’s exclusion from the literary space. Woolf uses fictional characters and scenarios such as the story of Judith Shakespeare, who, despite her ambition and talent is held behind due to patriarchal views of gender roles and expectations that are placed on women. While Judith is pushed towards housework, marriage and dismissed from theaters, her less talented brother, William, is accepted and successful. The famous quote from the book, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” is one that I find myself thinking of on a regular basis. It very practically highlights the need for women to have monetary security and the independence and space to pursue creative endeavours. This is the book that formed the basis for my undergraduate dissertation, led me towards the idea of a ‘herstory’. It is a forever inspiration and a must read for young female writers such as myself: to tell stories despite the odds, despite patriarchy and societal expectations. The following quote speaks for it better than I could.
“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”
The Colour Purple (1982) – Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s famous and award-winning epistolary novel gives us an eye opening insight into African American women and their lives in the early 1900s. Through a very gripping voice, the narrator writes letters to God, through which Alice Walker highlights the issues of race, sexuality, misogyny, rape, torture and slavery. Yet there is also a sense of huge resilience that the women in the novel have despite all their experiences. The writing can be pretty graphic but I could not put it down. Since then, I’ve pretty much developed a huge interest in African American literature and works such as this and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) and Beloved (1987).
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) – Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical debut novel is about Jeanette, an adopted child brought up by a very strict Catholic mother as God’s chosen child. That is until Jeanette falls for one of the girls at camp. The novel is about the narrator’s relationship with God, religion, her mother, her identity, coming out, and her love for books and writing and how those two almost seem to save her. I had to read this as an undergrad and I totally fell in love with Winterson and her writing, devouring most of her books in no time. There was a lot to relate to, and even when there wasn’t, her writing style is what kept me hooked. It’s one of those that’s a bit of a love/hate for some people. It’s lyrical, has a rhythm to it, and is very cleverly and wittily written. Winterson writes from the heart. Every sentence is weighted and paid attention to. Her work is also almost philosophical at times when debating about God and life, and this was a huge inspiration to me. I’m afraid I fell into a Winterson coma that last year of uni!
White Teeth (1999) – Zadie Smith
I’m a 100 pages off from finishing this, which I intend to do so tonight, but with this one I feel like I’ve discovered something. Or more specifically, something has been revealed to me, as this was a recommendation from my brilliant tutor. Zadie Smith’s debut novel follows the lives of 3 different characters from 3 different cultures and is extensive, expansive, and full of humour. Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal form the unlikeliest of life-long friendships during World War 2. Years later in England, Archie attempts suicide, fails and the two are reunited. Archie has a sudden new turn in life and a second marriage to Clara Bowden, a Jamaican half his age. Zadie Smith explores the lives of these two men and their families, their children as second generation growing up with a constant culture clash against London’s background and their faith and racial identities. Zadie Smith has a fantastic humour and gets into each and every character’s mind. As someone who is always trying to write about these issues and somehow never managing to do it right, this book is an eye opener and one I would definitely form my PhD idea on if I ever got to do one!
These are just some that I’ve picked out from my Goodreads for this quick blog post. I’ve tried to vary them and there’s probably some I’ve missed out but would definitely be interested to know what everyone else’s influential books are!