World Book Day 2020: The books that made us
In celebration of World Book Day, writers, poets, cultural organisers and a few List-ers discuss the books that have had an impact on them
There's nothing in this world quite like meeting a book at just the right time, whether it's a gripping page-turner that lets you briefly escape into another world; a collection of flawless verses; or a work that profoundly shifts your worldview. In celebration of World Book Day and the power of the written word, we've decided to ask a few writers, poets, cultural organisers and members of Team List to gush about a work of poetry or prose that has been formative to their lives.
Thomas Hardy, 'Poems of 1912–13'
I'll say a favourite book for more than 40 years is a very battered copy of Thomas Hardy's selected shorter poems including his 'Poems of 1912–13'. I discovered these while I was a student and I've loved them ever since.
Eleanor Livingstone, Festival Director of StAnza: Scotland's International Poetry Festival
Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse
I first read To The Lighthouse when I was seventeen. I'd just started at university, and was struggling to adapt, both to the lifestyle and the academic standards. I wasn't sure what I was doing, or if this was really for me. To The Lighthouse blindsided me. I'd never read anything like it, but it was utterly familiar. The guests in Mrs Ramsay's house became large and small, distant and close, running into and apart from each other and from the land and seascapes. The use of distinct sections to amplify and estrange each other was a revelation; I'll never forget the image of the clothes rustling in the wind. The scope was enormous and intimate, and every word obeyed a central rhythm. It was breathlessly exciting, and I've carried it with me ever since.
Martin MacInnes, author of novels Infinite Ground and Gathering Evidence
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
I'm a big believer in fate, so being introduced to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go by my mum in my teenage years hugely influenced my attitude on how to conduct future relationships. If something is special, pursue it, as life is too short to live in regret. Following Tommy and Kathy's relationship throughout for it only to be cut short just as it finally begins is heartbreaking, and I still tear up just thinking about the river quote: 'I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it's just too much. The current's too strong.'
Amy Clark, Events Development Executive at The List
Tove Jansson, The Summer Book
A much-needed vitamin D injection for the winter months, Tove Jansson's semi-autobiographical novel The Summer Book is a reminder of the beauty in relationships. Wondrous and spell-binding, Jansson casts a nostalgic wand over us with these words, all set on a remarkable Finnish island.
Keira Brown, Co-producer of the Paisley Book Festival
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Ada Limón, The Carrying
When I was a teenager, that would certainly have been The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I still think it's a book with some beautiful and essential wisdom in it, especially Mr Anderson's often-quoted line: 'we accept the love we think we deserve'. More recently, I'd have to say The Carrying by Ada Limón, which I read during a time when I needed to hear a voice like hers, with such direct courage and empathy. The last lines of the poem 'Wonder Woman' pretty much sum up how I feel about this collection: 'She struts by in all her strength and glory, invincible, / eternal, and when I stand to clap (because who wouldn't), / she bows and poses like she knew I needed the myth, / —a woman, by a river, indestructible'
Roseanne Watt, poet and author of Moder Dy
Susan Hill, The Woman in Black
I was given Susan Hill's seminal ghost story, The Woman in Black, as a young child by a family friend who – looking back on it – may not have had my best interests at heart. It's a deeply unsettling story, the title character steeped in a primeval malevolence that was really quite unusual for the time. I've since watched it on stage and I've seen the various TV and film adaptations but I can't help returning to the source material. Hill's prose is economical and effective, conjuring indelible images I've harboured since childhood. She deserves her place among the greats of Gothic horror.
Murray Robertson, Content Manager at The List