What Writers Read – Edited by Pandora Sykes – Thirty-five Writers on their favourite book

What Writers Read Edited by Pandora Sykes

This is a book which may be a beautifully printed gift edition on the surface, but actually contains worlds within its neat hardback covers. All profits and royalties from this book will go to the National Literacy Trust, which works towards creating school libraries and literacy hubs where the need is greatest. So there is one reason to buy a copy, but also because the contents are fascinating and illuminating.

Thirty-five writers from various backgrounds, but including many I had heard of and read, were asked to contribute a short piece about the book that they read which influenced their lives, and either made them writers or improved their writing. There are prize-winners and shortlisted authors for literary awards, there are also writers who are earlier in their careers. David Nicholls, Ali Smith, Sebastian Faulks and Marian Keyes all have substantial backlists, and Elizabeth Day, Kit de Waal and Dolly Alderton are all high profile in terms of television and initiatives. As each author writes about a book that had a significant effect on them there are a lot of recommendations for reading – not only the book written about often in loving detail but also the authors’ own main works.

None of these pieces are book reviews – there are other websites for that. These pieces are summaries of the effects books had on readers, often at significant points in their lives. They are often incredibly personal, like Keyes on “Cold Comfort Farm” which was a random discovery at a crisis point. Elif Shafak, reveals how Virginia Woolf’s open feminism in “Orlando” inspired her growing up in restrictive Turkey. Ruth Ozeki writes of her childhood discovery of “The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon” and how it clarified aspects of her own personality. William Boyd’s discovery of “Catch 22” helped him make sense of his own childhood experience of war related adventures and affected his life. Other writers reveal how the books of others inspired their own efforts at constructing their own novels, showing them how it works.

I found this the sort of book it was aimed to be, a pick up and put down, a book which does not make demands on the reader but informs, fascinates and even moves our own reactions to reading. At the moment it fits the bill well for my collection of books about books – the joys of reading about reading, about books as physical objects and how they are read. This is a super book for anyone who is similarly interested or is in need of inspiration for what to read next. Together with its charity credentials it is a lovely book to acquire, and I recommend it.