Book Reviews / Desert Island Books

Desert Island Books: Poorna Bell


Poorna Bell

After devouring Poorna Bell’s Chase the Rainbow a little under a year ago, I was desperate to read more of her work, and was thus delighted to discover that she had a new book, In Search of Silence, coming out this year. I read an A4-bound proof copy while staying on the shores of Lake Atitlan, which had traveled with me from London, to LA, and finally onto Guatemala, and I couldn’t put it down. Poignant, powerful, and perfect for anyone feeling lost or unsure of what the future holds, Poorna manages to blend her signature wit with wisdom to deliver a truly memorable read.

And so, to celebrate the launch of her brilliant new memoir (which you can buy here), I invited Poorna to take part in my Desert Island Books, so I could learn more about the tomes that make her tick. From a classic Murakami to the book she bought when bored in Philadelphia Airport, read on to find out more…

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

When I was younger I read very weighty books, and then I studied English at university. The reaction to all that literature, and getting older, is that sometimes, simplicity can be the most powerful thing. This is the book that I have re-read the most. It is like a warm bath, a slow glow. It follows the story of a young woman who is an orphan, and then her grandmother dies and she’s taken in someone. It’s about friendships – but it’s written with such pathos that you can help but want to live in the world that has been created for a brief time.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Murakami can divide or unite people, and I have loved almost every single one of his books. This is a book I have re-read, and I never fail to be fascinated by the fact that he can describe even something as simple as making a sandwich or having a beer and I am instantly there with him in his books. This book in particular, which is around the mysterious disappearance of the protagonist’s wife, is done in such a deft way, working in magical realism that builds to a point where two worlds almost sit side by side with each other, that I adore it.

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The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

I have every single one of Pratchett’s books, but this is one of my favourites. Not only is Hogfather a parody of Christmas, but the entire world created – the Discworld – is one that I feel I know so well. In it, Death has to step in for the Hogfather (basically their version of Santa Claus) and deliver presents around the world and it is such a beautiful (yet funny) look at the transience of life, but also all the little things that make us human.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

I read this book when I was pretty young – about 18. At the time, I was obsessed with Rushdie’s writing, although I haven’t been a fan of his work since The Moor’s Last Sigh. This book to me was the one I wished I had the talent to write, and it was also a book that depicts India, especially at the time of independence, so well. For a kid growing up in a very white area, in the Kent suburbs, it was incredible to have a bit of my cultural homeland brought into my bedroom.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

There are so many Gaiman books – from his comic book Sandman to Neverwhere, Anansi Boys – that it is hard to pick. I first heard of him when I read the book he co-authored with Terry Pratchett called Good Omens, and I’ve been in love ever since. American Gods wins it because not only is it bigger than the rest, it’s one of the first I’ve read with a Native American protagonist aside from Louise Erdrich’s books. The storytelling is superb, and the way it cuts across modern day Americana with old Norse legends.

American Gods

Parrots of Desire: 3,000 years of Indian Erotica by Amrita Narayanan

Bear with me. I found this book in a bookshop in Calcutta and taught me so much about the history of sex and poetry. Indians by default tend to be conservative in their outlook on sex (thanks, colonialism) and we didn’t always used to be this way. Not only is it a compendium of some of the most ancient texts on sex – and not just the Kama Sutra – but it also contains modern poetry and prose that is beautifully executed.

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When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

He is one of the most brilliant diarists, and his works makes me laugh so hard I almost cry. His observations of the mundane is really what I admire the most – how he can craft a story around something a random stranger said to him in the street. I bought this book when I was bored in Philadelphia airport, and five minutes in, I was entertained. I also love his life – how candid he is about being an art student on meth, going on to clean people’s houses and then work his way into writing books.

Collected Poems and Plays by Rabindranath

I visited Tagore’s house in India – he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Laureate for literature. I learned that at various points he spent some time in solitude, and he wrote poetry according to his own rules, rather than following others. His words are exquisite, and they wield nature and elements of the divine to create the most startlingly beautiful images. So many years after his death, and his poetry remains some of the most relevant I’ve ever read.

About Poorna Bell

Poorna Bell is an award-winning journalist, the former executive editor of HuffPost UK and she has been named as one of Balance magazine’s Top 100 Wellness personalities.  She is a Mind Media Awards judge and has appeared on a number of other judging panels including the Decibel prize for the British Book Awards. Poorna has also previously written for the Guardian, the Telegraph, Red, Cosmo, Stylist and the Observer. For five years she was a regular on BBC radio, and has featured on Sky News, London Live and ITV.  She is the author of non-fiction book Chase The Rainbow.

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