Tuesday, 4 March 2014

57. The First

Illustration from Munsch 1980 book.

The first proper book that I ever read was The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. I will never forget the day that I read that book; Linda, my teacher, took my hand and walked me from our Reception classroom to the Year 5 library. In my five year-old mind, that journey from one side of the school to the other was like a kingly crusade; not more than 30 seconds but feeling like 30 minutes. I am certain that my face bore what would most probably have been a partially toothless grin the entire way.

The first book that sparked my passion for literature was A Passage to India by E. M. Forster - a book which introduced to me the key ideas of colonialism and postcolonialism, and which would later influence my final dissertation four years later. While I always loved studying English at school, I had never before been so excited to get to a class each day. There is nothing quite like recognising yourself - your culture, experiences, and history - in the very thing that you love the most. Writers and thinkers who followed through this newly-opened door include Zadie Smith, Hanif Kureishi, Hari Kunzru, Edward Saïd and Ngugi wa Thiong'o to name a few. The phrases "ontological crisis", "boum" and "the sky said, 'no, not there'" (which I would subsequently incorporate into every day conversation amongst school friends, whether or not sensible) remain etched in my memory and will always remind me of sixth-form English class.

Don Quixote sketch by Pablo Picasso, 1955

The first book that I studied on my undergraduate English Literature degree was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I saw, in the character of Quixote, much of what I love about literature - its intense, crazy, vortex-like power to transport and envelope the reader (albeit highly exaggerated in the book) into worlds which are, in many cases, completely fabricated. The fact that I can get lost in a great book for an entire day catches me off-guard every single time! The fact that strings of carefully-chosen words can deliver and draw out such emotion from writer to reader is so exciting!

For fear of sounding like a Romantic poet taking in an English landscape, I'll hold it (and the exclamation marks) right there. But as this project is soon to come to an end, I thought that you might like to see some of the texts that have shaped my thoughts and inspired my writing.

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