I used to define myself by my books. My towering bookshelf, filled to the point of dipped shelves, was my pride and joy. I love reading, I love words. I love stories. I love books! Certain books have stayed with me throughout my whole life; I know the feel of them, the smell of them, the way the words sit on the page. When I chose to travel, I knew I couldn’t keep hold of everything.
I made the cut and sold over 53 of them (I made over £220) and donated a further 38 to charity. 8 went in the recycling bin (they were overrun with annotations), and I have a pile of 20 more waiting to be sold.
Out of nearly 150 books, I’m keeping 25. These are those and how they changed my life.
- Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Writing. The seed. The dissertation. I watched the movie first – my 16th birthday. I then read the book. My copy now, is probably my most read book. I wrote my dissertation off the back of that; the single most life-changing piece of writing I’ve ever done. You can read an edited version here.Whilst I explored Chris and others like him, and their attraction to the wilderness, in a way, I was building my own adventure. This book will always stay.
- Wild – Cheryl Strayed
Following on the same theme, I read Wild last year. On my first solo adventure for a long time, in Hamburg. A solo woman’s travels when I was on a little solo adventure. It came right when I needed it. I was, and am, grateful.
- Literature, Culture and Theory
Starting a-fresh in Falmouth.
- The Magic Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton
For Childhood. Grandparents.
- How to Live – Sarah Bakewell
One to read. From Grace. For Stuart.
- Lonely Plant – Great Adventures
Bought by Grace. Filled with potential.
- Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin.
Possibilities of life. For dreams.
- The Border Film Project
Being teenage and discovering the trial and tribulations of the world. For real honest pictures. For wordless stories.
- Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
For Stuart. Short fiction. Fantasy. Weirdness.
- The Rhyming Dictionary
- People Who Eat Darkness – Richard Lloyd Parry
Budapest. Human nature. True crime. Darkness.
- The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark
For shocks. For great.
- Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
For A-levels. For liking what others don’t. For unique writing.
- The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick
For an easy read. For halls in Birmingham. For escapism. For staying up to finish the book. For lonely afternoons in Waterstones in B-Town.
- Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
I must have been ten when I read this, which I’m amazed by for the nature of some of the content. The series has somewhat merged together in my mind, but this is the one I will keep. They opened my eyes to what was going on in other parts of the world, and opened my eyes to things I’d never questioned before.I had the book signed by Malorie Blackman at a talk she held at a school near Leeds. She made a comment about how my book was new (when I had read it multiple times) and I was shy; it looked new because I took so much care of it. It had been kept in a full bookcase so each page was kept pressed. The talk I attended changed my life and my approach to life. I’d grown up in York, the opposite of a melting pot of culture, it was a primarily white city where even foreign restaurants were few and far between.Malorie mentioned growing up in a white world, with no one to relate to. She made me aware, for the first time, that plasters were coloured for white skin.
I’d never questioned this, but from then on, I became far more aware of race and the disparities in this world. When I read (and re-read) Noughts and Crosses, I was learning my place in the world, and learning the privileges I’d had, without even realising them.
- Broken Soup -Jenny Valentine
For teenage love and lust
- Language and Identity – John Edwards.
This book takes me to the 8th floor of the building where studied in Birmingham.I’m in a concrete tower block in a suburb, overlooking a dual-level dual carriageway and a discount goods shopping centre. My view however is obscured because heavy red curtains are drawn. The lack of light fuels my low mood. We have a stand-in tutor for the semester, a linguistics professor who normally teaches at the University of Birmingham. A better university. Where I was, Birmingham City University, was subtly placed as lesser, always.This book was a core text during my Language and Identity module. It was fascinating to learn more about those around me, and the surprising number for whom English was a third, or fourth language, following Asian tongues such as Urdu or Punjabi. It was fitting to read this in Birmingham, the biggest mishmash of languages and identities I’ve encountered.
- Light – Eva Figes
For university. For painting. For Stuart. For life.
- The Uncanny – Sigmund Freud
For fantasy. For short stories. For companionship.
- The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht
- When I was A Soldier – Valerie Zenatti
For women. For history. For translations.
- Literature Criticism and Theory – Bennett & Boyle
- The Economist Style Guide
For accessible language
- 30 Second Philosophies
For making the complex, simple?
- Work Your Way Around The World – Susan Griffith
In no way is this a conclusive list of books that changed my life. I’ve borrowed books from libraries, from friends, from university that have undoubtedly changed my life. I can remember the way Paradise End made me feel. I can remember the deception I felt after I read A Million Little Pieces and looked up the honesty of the story. I remember crying as I turned the pages of The Time Travellers Wife and I remember the angst I felt reading (and craving the conclusion of) I am Pilgrim.
Travelling has already changed me in a huge way, and I’ve not yet departed. I’m shaking off labels and embracing minimality. It’s scary, but feels exciting.