Welcome to My Life in Books, a weekly series where readers, writers and content creators share how books have shaped them over the years.
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What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I have a pretty awful memory, so this one’s a bit of a tricky one to answer for me. I don’t have a specific memory relating to books as a child, but I do remember reading a lot from a young age.
Do you have a favourite book from childhood?
I loved the Animal Ark series as a child – for anyone who hasn’t heard of them the books had titles like Kittens in the Kitchen, Puppies in the Pantry and Foals in the Field, and they were about a vet’s daughter. So every book would be a different adventure, and I used to absolutely love them. Every time a new one would come add I would add it to my growing collection.
Do you have a favourite book from school?
I hated school, so – again – this is a tricky one to answer – but at a push, I would say one of Shakespeare’s plays, probably A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the first one I remember studying, and I loved the fact there were so many characters in it. I always really liked the four lovers – Demetrius, Helena, Hermia, and Lysander – they were my favourite part of the play.
How often do you read?
I try and read as much as possible, I would say every day, but sometimes I don’t get around to it, so I would probably say I read about four times a week. The amount of time I spend reading will vary depending on how much free time I have, and also, how invested I am in a book. If I’m really into in a book, I’ll make the time to read it, but if I’m reading one that’s I’m not particularly invested in, I’ll read quite slowly.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’d had it on my list for a while and then I found it in a street library, and it just jumped out at me. It’s short chapters, and an easy read, and while I’m enjoying it, I wouldn’t say it’s amazing.
Is there a book you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t yet?
There’s a book called Bringing Back the Beaver, and it’s about reintroducing beavers back into the UK. I saw it while I was back in London and it’s still on my mind all these months later, so I should probably to get hold of a copy.
Is there a book you’d recommend to almost anyone?
I always recommend A Little Life. I know you probably wouldn’t recommend it to *almost anyone* but it’s the one that always springs to mind, and it’s my favourite book. I read a review about it when it first came out in Attitude Magazine, in which they called it a ‘gay masterpiece’, and after reading it, I gave it to my housemate to read, and we both had very similar, very emotionally traumatic experiences reading it. Despite that, it’s a book that always sticks out for me.
What book didn’t live up to its hype?
For me the worst book I’ve ever read is Catcher in the Rye. It just wasn’t for me, at all.
Do you have a favourite character from literature?
To be honest I’m not really that drawn to characters, I’m more drawn to plots. Growing up I was always drawn to a supporting character or villain because I used to find main characters quite boring, whereas now I think the way that we’ve progressed and more interesting people are being put front and centre in novels. Taking that into account, I’d say my favourite character in fiction is Katniss from The Hunger Games because she was one of the first main characters that I really liked, and I love those books so much, I remember I tore through the first book in a single day.
Is there a book you often re-read?
I don’t think I’ve ever read the same book twice because there’s just so many books I want to read.
Do you have a favourite author?
I suppose I’d have to say Hanya Yanagihara; she wrote my favourite book, and I also got to meet her at Gertrude & Alice in Bondi.
Do you have a favourite classic?
Not a classic in the typical sense of the word, but one nonetheless that I think everyone should read is Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. I love the film, and then I went on to read the book two or three years ago now, and I loved it just as much as the film. I found the Bridget in the book to be quite different from the character in the film, but both are great, so that would be my classic recommendation.
Wild Swans by June Chang. I really like this book because it tells a hundred years of history in China, but through the eyes of three women from three different generations of the same family. I thought it was a really great way to understand both the personal impacts of historical events but also how historical events happened. I remember seeing it on a family bookshelf when I was younger, and I went into a bookshop about ten years ago now in London, and I saw the book there with the same green cover and the red Chinese writing on the front, and remember thinking how familiar it looked, and I just picked it up, and I absolutely loved it.
Is there a book you think everyone should read?
I think it’s really important for everyone to read books about the refugee experience, because I think it’s vital to understand the humanity behind the awful headlines we’ve become accustomed to. There’s a couple that I would recommend; one is No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani – it was written on his phone – and it was just amazing. The other is a fictional book, but it’s based on real events, and it’s The Bee Keeper of Aleppo. There’s loads of them out there, and I feel that it’s just crucial to understand the refugee experience, because there’s a horrible narrative out there in the news surrounding refugees, and these books help people understand that refugees are just people in awful circumstances, and that it could have been any of us.