If you had to select five books that made an impact on your life, which ones would you choose?
Would you go for a literary classic or a modern book on self-improvement? Would it be a book that had a profound effect on society, or one that touched something deep in you? Or would you select something more offbeat?
Here are my choices.
Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton
Possibly the first book I read on my own. Aged seven or eight at the time, I was hooked immediately as four children and a scruffy, but cute, dog solved a mystery in the school holidays. The story stirred my imagination, made me long for adventure and the chance to explore new worlds.
The story showed how easy it was to lose myself in an imaginary world that seemed only too real and exciting.
Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I wanted to create my own worlds and share them. And on my 12th or 13th birthday, I asked for a typewriter.
To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
I read, analysed and critiqued this book as part of my O level English Literature course, not realising the profound impact it would have on how I looked at life.
At its heart is a story of good and evil, viewed through the innocent eyes of a young girl. She witnesses injustice, unfairness, prejudice and ignorance as an innocent man is tried for rape.
But her father, Atticus Finch, though doomed to fail in the courtroom, battles on, refusing to be beaten by ignorance and fear, determined to reveal the truth.
This novel changed my life.
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
This book changed the way I approached life.
I read this in my early twenties as I struggled to find my place in a world I didn’t understand or like. Dale Carnegie gave me hope, showed me how to be positive and take control of my life, how to work with others. In short, it gave me confidence and a better understanding of life and people.
I still have a copy on my bookshelf and still dip into it from time to time.
My Uncle Oswald – Roald Dahl
‘Aside from being thoroughly debauched, strikingly attractive and astonishingly wealthy, Uncle Oswald was the greatest bounder, bon vivant and fornicator of all time.’
How can you resist this description of a novel?
I couldn’t. At the age of 20, I devoured this funny, offbeat and wonderfully entertaining story. But more than this, I realised how much I enjoyed stories written in the first person. You felt close to the hero, sharing an intimacy you rarely experienced with third person narratives.
But if the person telling the story was a narrator, as Watson did for Sherlock Holmes, you had the best of both worlds. Inspired, I went on to write a humorous novel about an offbeat uncle.
See Jane Run – Joy Fielding
‘One afternoon in late spring, Jane Whittaker went to the store for some milk and eggs and forgot who she was.’
This is still one of my favourite opening lines. It’s matter of fact, simple, but unnerving. Who is Jane? Why did she forget who she was? How scary would it be to forget who you were?
I can’t recall why I chose to lift this book from the shelf and take a look inside, but I discovered an author who could not only create compelling characters with a few deft strokes, but could make the ordinary anything but. The suspense that trickled through the story gripped me like few other books. I cared about Jane and I feared for her.
At the time, these novels were described as ‘women in peril’ stories, but are now branded as psychological suspense.
See Jane Run made me want to write a psychological thriller, which became a necessary stepping stone towards the murder mysteries I now write.
There were many more books I could have chosen, but these five made me reflect and look at who I was and what I wanted.
Which books would be in your favourite five? Why?
‘I do believe something magical can happen when you read a good book.’ J.K. Rowling