David Maraniss’s meticulous and absorbing biography of Barack Obama. I’ve also just begun Sofi Oksanen’s Purge, and have been rationing myself to one exquisite poem a day from John Freeman’s collection Maps.
The book that changed my life
Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. The ructions of many African countries mirrored those of the South American countries, which were then rich in literature. Allende’s work resonated with me in a way no English novel could at that time. It marked a tipping point, towards becoming a writer.
The book I wish I’d written
A Heart So White by Javier Marías is so passionate, languid and beautiful, I just wish it were mine.
The book that changed my mind
I thought I had little enthusiasm for speculative or science fiction and then I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred.
The book that influenced my writing
I went through a phase in my late teens and early 20s of reading everything by Iris Murdoch. I expect I began with The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker prize when I was 14, though it is A Severed Head I remember best. At the time, I was studying law and had become extremely bored with it. I was drawn to the intellectual speculation and psychological depth of Murdoch’s writing, and the experience of reading her brought the realisation that, for me, thinking would always be the greater part of reading. Now every book I write has a question at the core, one that bothers me enough to devote several years to trying to uncover the answer.
The book I think is most underrated
When Waiting for an Angel was published in 2002, Helon Habila had yet to make his name; Nigeria was not the powerhouse of new publishing it is now. The novel is a melancholy and arresting tale of writers living in a time of oppression and showcases his astonishing mastery of structure. The book earned acclaim when it was published, but now feels even more the right time for it. I’d like to see a reissue.
My own. I write certain scenes through snot and tears. It’s pathetic.
The last book that made me laugh
It’s either Josip Novakovich’s April Fool’s Day or Samson Kambalu’s The Jive Talker Or, How to Get a British Passport. Before that Lucy Ellmann’s Man or Mango?
The book I couldn’t finish
Yesterday I gave up on a book in which the only black characters were prostitutes and all the foreigners were criminals. Life’s too short. I also couldn’t get on with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, much as I tried. But her Days of Abandonment was a blow to the heart.
The book I give as a gift
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, to the sleep-lorn parents of newborns.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
You can’t read everything, so shame shouldn’t come into it. But the book I wish I had read early on is the Qur’an. At school we were obliged to study the Bible and although I have never been a practising Christian I have a grounded understanding of the faith. I’d like to have a similar degree of residual knowledge of the Qur’an.
Aminatta Forna’s Happiness is published by Bloomsbury.
Source: The Guardian