The Book That Changed Me

Episodes

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01The Essay20180402

How journalist and writer Hirsch changed her view of Jean Rhys's novel.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Journalist and writer Afua Hirsch discusses "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys, the story of the forgotten first wife of Mr Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. Encountering Rhys's novel aged 14, Hirsch detested her account of a Creole girl growing up in 1830s Jamaica. Re-reading it much later in life, she came to believe that "it is one of the most perfect books ever written in the English language. The sparsity of Rhys's painfully meticulous sentences, which so alienated the teenage me, touches me now - a writer myself - as the work of a genius." The novel helped shape her thinking on Britishness. "Race is everywhere. Its legacy is real and traumatic. You can't opt out of it or - as so many people in contemporary Britain attempt to do - claim not to see it."

Producer Smita Patel
Editor Hugh Levinson.

02The Essay20180403

Neurosurgeon and writer Henry Marsh on the influence of Tolstoy's epic novel.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Neurosurgeon and writer Henry Marsh on how "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy began a teenage love affair with all things Russian. "I burned the plastic coating off my NHS spectacle frames to reveal the revolutionary intellectual steel inside. And bought a young Communist League badge which I could wear on my black polo neck pullover." Marsh later drove across Europe to begin the first of many stints as a volunteer surgeon in Ukraine. "My life might easily have careered off in an entirely different direction if it had not been for Tolstoy," he says.

Producer Smita Patel
Editor Hugh Levinson.

03The Essay20180404

The artist describes the inspiration of these legendary tales.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

From Monarchs to Presidents. Joanne Paul on satire, flattery and document leaks in the C16 and C17 centuries and the relevance of strategies for telling truth to those who hold power over us now.
Zarah Hussain explains how The Arabian Nights inspired her as an artist. On discovering the book as a child, she found "the book was absolutely beautiful...There was a border of pink and blue arabesque flowers and a central image of a King wearing a gold crown and beautiful robes in conversation with a Queen similarly bedecked in robes. The floor and walls were covered in repeating geometric patterns. ...they came from a different world, a faraway place, but a place that was somehow familiar to me."
Producer: Smita Patel.

04The Essay20180405

Tony Blair's former spokesman on how Flaubert inspired his love of French culture.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

Tony Blair's former spokesman, on how Gustave Flaubert's novel gave him a lifetime love of French culture. "It is a love that has endured. I like reading French, speaking French, listening to French. Every year of my adult life, I have spent a part of it in France, and the older I get, the more freedom I seem to have to go there, and so the more I exploit that freedom."
Producer: Smita Patel.

05The Essay20180406

The poet and playwright on the fantasy comedy 'Pyramids'.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond

The poet and playwright describes how he was influenced by the comic novel "Pyramids". "When I opened the first few pages...it is no exaggeration to say my whole world changed," he recalls. As a twelve-year-old Nigerian migrant to London, Ellams found that Pratchett's hilarious fantasy world helped him in his transition to his new homeland. "If I could give myself and belong so completely and entirely to his world, which mirrored Britain, then perhaps I could belong to Britain itself."
Producer: Smita Patel.

0101Homage To Catalonia2011031420120319

Alan Johnston explains how "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell inspired him to become a journalist - and taught him some dark truths about politics. At one point Johnston looked to be destined for a career in town planning. But that all changed when he came across Orwell's book on the Spanish Civil War. "Homage to Catalonia" set Johnston off down a path that would take him to wars and upheaval in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan under the Taleban. He was on a journey that would eventually lead to his being kidnapped in Gaza.

Alan Johnston explains how Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell inspired him.

Alan Johnston explains how "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell inspired him to become a journalist - and taught him some dark truths about politics.

At one point Johnston looked to be destined for a career in town planning.

But that all changed when he came across Orwell's book on the Spanish Civil War.

"Homage to Catalonia" set Johnston off down a path that would take him to wars and upheaval in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan under the Taleban.

He was on a journey that would eventually lead to his being kidnapped in Gaza.

0102The Wrench2011031520120320

The potter and writer Edmund de Waal explains how Primo Levi's book "The Wrench" inspired him.

He tells of his long search for a book which would connect with his love of craftsmanship.

Here was a work of fiction which spoke to an artist about the beauty and magic of making objects.

Potter and writer Edmund de Waal explains how Primo Levi's book The Wrench inspired him.

The potter and writer Edmund de Waal explains how Primo Levi's book "The Wrench" inspired him. He tells of his long search for a book which would connect with his love of craftsmanship. Here was a work of fiction which spoke to an artist about the beauty and magic of making objects.

0103For Colored Girls...20110316

Writer Bernardine Evaristo describes her love for the book "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange.

This collection of poems inspired Evaristo to break into experimental black theatre and ultimately find her own voice as a novelist.

Producer: Smita Patel.

Writer Bernardine Evaristo on how For Colored Girls...

by Ntozake Shange inspired her.

0104The Expressions Of The Emotions In Man And Animals2011031720120321

Scientist Colin Blakemore praises a lesser-known work by Charles Darwin,"The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals".

Producer: Smita Patel.

Scientist Colin Blakemore praises a lesser-known work by Charles Darwin.

Scientist Colin Blakemore praises a lesser-known work by Charles Darwin,"The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals".

0105Pride And Prejudice2011031820120322

Academic Mona Siddiqui explores her affection for Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and explains how it spoke over the centuries directly to her personal experience.Here was a work of fiction which mirrored all the conventions of arranged marriage between two very different cultures, Austen's English Regency values and Siddiqui's Indian Muslim views on love and loyalty to the family.

Producer: Smita Patel.

Academic Mona Siddiqui explores her affection for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

0106The Smoking Diaries2011102420130318

Former England cricketer and now writer for the Times, Ed Smith tells us how Simon Gray's The Smoking Diaries liberated him as a wordsmith. Throwing away the rulebook of formal writing, he was inspired to have the confidence to use words in a completely new way.

Producer: Smita Patel

First broadcast in October 2011.

Former England cricketer and now writer for the Times, Ed Smith tells us how Simon Gray's "The Smoking Diaries" liberated him as a wordsmith.

Throwing away the rulebook of formal writing, he was inspired to have the confidence to use words in a completely new way.

Ed Smith explains how Simon Gray's The Smoking Diaries liberated him as a wordsmith.

0107Othello2011102520130319

Poet and musician Musa Okwonga on how Shakespeare's Othello mirrored his experience of isolation as a young black British-Ugandan growing up in a predominantly white environment. Feeling out of place at work and in his own skin, reading Othello provided an outlet for his demons and eventually the courage to create a new life as a poet.

Producer: Smita Patel

First broadcasst in October 2011.

Poet and musician Musa Okwonga on how Shakespeare's "Othello" mirrored his experience of isolation as a young black British-Ugandan growing up in a predominantly white environment.

Feeling out of place at work and in his own skin, reading "Othello" provided an outlet for his demons and eventually the courage to create a new life as a poet.

Poet Musa Okwonga on how Shakespeare's Othello mirrored his experience of isolation.

0108In The Land Of Israel2011102620130320

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on how Amos Oz's In the Land of Israel changed her feelings towards the country and allowed her to be both in love and critical of her homeland.

Producer: Smita Patel

First broadcast in October 2011.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on how Amos Oz's "In the Land of Israel" changed her feelings towards the country and allowed her to be both in love and critical of her homeland.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on how Amos Oz's book In the Land of Israel.

0109The Silent Spring2011102720130321

Veteran journalist Julian Pettifer on how Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring turned him into an environmentalist and how her grave warnings about the use of chemicals turned deadly while he was reporting the Vietnam War.

Producer: Smita Patel

First broadcast in October 2011

Veteran journalist Julian Pettifer on how Rachel Carson's "The Silent Spring" turned him into an environmentalist and how her grave warnings about the use of chemicals turned deadly while he was reporting the Vietnam War.

Journalist Julian Pettifer on how Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring inspired him.

0110 LASTChocky2011102820130322

Space Scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock on how Chocky by John Wyndham was pivotal in overcoming her dread of reading. As a child Maggie and books simply didn't get on. She avoided them. Until a science fiction novel about a young boy, with an "imaginary" friend, fired her imagination to ask questions - a habit now central to her career as a scientist.

Producer: Smita Patel

First broadcast in October 2011.

Space Scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock on how "Chocky" by John Wyndham was pivotal in overcoming her dread of reading.

As a child Maggie and books simply didn't get on.

She avoided them.

Until a science fiction novel about a young boy, with an "imaginary" friend, fired her imagination to ask questions - a habit now central to her career as a scientist.

Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock on how Chocky by John Wyndham inspired her.

0201Alan Johnson On David Copperfield2014012020141020 (R3)

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson describes how "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens mirrored his poor and troubled childhood in West London. After the death of his mother, the discovery of this great novel gave him the hope to build a happy and secure adult life. "I was thirteen years old and had read lots of books but nothing like this complex saga; so moving, so emotionally intertwined. I loved Peggoty, laughed at Micawber, loathed Uriah Heep. And I cried. Tears that never fell for my mother fell for Ham."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0202Tracey Thorn On The Female Eunuch2014012120141021 (R3)

Singer Tracey Thorn describes how she as a rebellious teenager she seized on the feminist classic "The Female Eunuch" by Germaine Greer. "It seemed brand new, and it spoke to me of things I'd long thought and felt without ever having words or names for," she says. She explains how the book was a deep influence on the lyrics she wrote for her band Everything but the Girl. But now she is herself a mother, she finds herself questioning Greer's contemptuous dismissal of parenting. "As feminists, I feel we are more forgiving now than Greer was; more inclusive, less dismissive, and perhaps that's because greater freedoms have brought with them greater liberties for us to be so. It's not such a threat now to admit to being happily married and enjoying motherhood when we are not utterly constrained and defined by these roles."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0203Simon Mcburney On And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos2014012220141022 (R3)

Actor/director Simon McBurney of Theatre de Complicite describes how John Berger's "And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos" plays with ideas of connection, memory, narrative and mortality which are essential to his theatrical work. "Berger digs in the vulnerable earth of human experience, and joins the fragments he uncovers with an eye as sure as an astronomer, a gesture as gentle as a carpenter," McBurney says. This slim work has been a point of reference for his art and his life.

Producer: Smita Patel.

The Book that Changed Me: Series in which five people discuss the books that inspired them in their chosen careers. Actor/director Simon McBurney of Theatre de Complicite describes how John Berger's "And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos" plays with ideas of connection, memory, narrative and mortality which are essential to his theatrical work. "Berger digs in the vulnerable earth of human experience, and joins the fragments he uncovers with an eye as sure as an astronomer, a gesture as gentle as a carpenter," McBurney says. This slim work has been a point of reference for his art and his life.

0204Malorie Blackman On The Color Purple2014012320141023 (R3)

Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman on how Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" legitimised her need to be a writer. She writes how the novel was "about the triumph of the human spirit". Reading it for the first time in her early 20s it "blasted open a door which I thought was locked and barred to me. Actually it blasted open a door which I didn't appreciate even existed. A door that could lead to a writing career of my own... this book and its author showed that it was possible for me to not only be an author but to have my own voice."

Producer: Smita Patel.

Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman on how Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" legitimised her need to be a writer. She writes how the novel was "about the triumph of the human spirit". Reading it for the first in her early 20s it "blasted open a door which I thought was locked and barred to me. Actually it blasted open a door which I didn't appreciate even existed. A door that could lead to a writing career of my own... this book and its author showed that it was possible for me to not only be an author but to have my own voice."

0205 LASTLuke Johnson On The Magic Of Thinking Big2014012420141024 (R3)

Serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson celebrates the simple but powerful messages of the self-help classic, "The Magic of Thinking Big" by David J Schwartz." "His book is not great literature," he admits. "Indeed, it is popular psychology at its most obvious." However, Johnson defends its power as "basic but also profound" - and it has influenced his huge success with a series of household name businesses.

Producer: Smita Patel.

0301Steve Earle On In Cold Blood20150119

The legendary singer-songwriter Steve Earle describes how Truman Capote's true-life murder story, "In Cold Blood", captured his imagination as a 12-year-old boy. He first encountered the tale - a dramatic account of a multiple killing in Kansas - in the film version, shown at a local drive-in movie house. "I had to find a copy of that book and read it for myself," he says, stealing the volume from his mother's handbag and devouring it over the next couple of days. Capote's story inspired his decades-long campaign against the death penalty. And the book led him to feel empathy for the killers at the centre of the tale, thanks to "the power of intellect and humanity flowing from heart to hand to pen to page."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0302Jude Kelly On Little Women2015012020160815 (R3)

Jude Kelly, the artistic director of Southbank Centre, describes how "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott mirrored her own experiences growing up in a lively Liverpool home. Like the March family, Kelly grew up surrounded by sisters, and with a father who was often absent. She was inspired by the way Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy grew throughout the novel. "Each daughter is tested against her own frailties and foibles to see if she can become a woman of substance in her own terms... and I wanted to be a woman of substance too," she says. And the book helped her come to terms with the loss of her baby sister Caroline of multiple sclerosis. "Maybe this is the biggest influence 'Little Women' had on me. It made me think about death as an inevitable part of our lives.

Producer: Smita Patel.

0303Jon Ronson On What A Carve Up!20150121

Journalist and writer Jon Ronson explains the electrifying effect of reading Jonathan Coe's "What a Carve Up!" He first came across the satirical novel as a care-free nightclubber in his 20s. "It politicized me in a way," Ronson says, making him "understand that big politics affect those of us down here just trying to shuffle our way through life". He was horrified and fascinated by the Winshaws, the grotesque family at the centre of the book, who typify the excesses of the Thatcher years. Ronson says the book was a deep influence on his own writing. "I wanted to pass on to my own readers the great revelation I'd learned from 'What A Carve Up!' - that powerful, crazy people affect our lives in ways we barely notice."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0304Lolita Chakrabarti On A Tale Of Two Cities20150122

Actor and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti explains how "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens affected her at a pivotal moment in her life. She first came across the novel at the age of 15, as a set text at school. Dickens's account of the French Revolution mirrored the tumult of the politics of the mid-1980s, while his narrative seized her imagination. "He paints pictures with words succinctly and with no pretension. He tells a cracking story, has a great sense of humour and creates credible, compelling characters," she says. The novel's portrayal of personality influenced her acting, leading her to search for the emotional impulse motivating each character. No wonder she still keeps her original paperback copy: "Many of the pages are loose, but I'm loath to throw it away because this book opened a door for me."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0305Sir Paul Nurse On Conjectures And Refutations2015012320160817 (R3)

Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse explains how Karl Popper's "Conjectures and Refutations" rescued his career as a research scientist. He read it at a time when he was dispirited by his experimental research methods. Popper's work "helped me out of my intellectual crisis," he says. "It showed me a way to think about my experiments and how to use them to develop more general scientific ideas." The philosopher recommended a new way of thinking about what to study, based on "intuitive leaps of the imagination". This procedure - of a cycle of bold conjectures, which are tested and refuted - dramatically liberated Sir Paul's thinking about how to advance scientific knowledge.

Producer: Smita Patel.

0401David Simon20161031

, the author and creator of the TV series "The Wire", describes how "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" by James Agee and Walker Evans changed his work as a journalist. The celebrated work capturing the lives of ordinary people during the depression made him realise the importance of sharing "the simple, raw vulnerability" of lived experience. "Page after page was fully ripe with the delicate work of a thinking journalist who knows with all moral certitude that he is approaching and attempting to capture the love, fear and sadness of real lives."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0402Pauline Black20161101

, the singer who found fame with the ska band The Selecter, on how Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" helped her understand her place as a black girl adopted by a white family. She both identified with Scout, the tomboyish main character, while it was the first book she read in which the black characters "shared a dignity and gravitas". It allowed her to understand the racial tensions and hypocrisy which surrounded her childhood. "This novel gave the little black girl that timidly lingered inside me the security to come out and fight against racial injustice with my chosen profession, music."

Producer: Smita Patel.

Pauline Black, the singer who found fame with the ska band The Selecter, on how Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" helped her understand her place as a black girl adopted by a white family. She both identified with Scout, the tomboyish main character, while it was the first book she read in which the black characters "shared a dignity and gravitas". It allowed her to understand the racial tensions and hypocrisy which surrounded her childhood. "This novel gave the little black girl that timidly lingered inside me the security to come out and fight against racial injustice with my chosen profession, music."

0403Ben Anderson20161102

, correspondent with Vice News, on how "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" led him to become a journalist. He discovered the book, ghost-written by Alex Haley, as "a skinny white kid living in Bedford". Yet the story of the American firebrand for the cause of black power became his touchstone. He was inspired by the way Malcolm X devoured every possible book while in prison. "Suddenly a fire was lit inside me. I had a path to follow," Anderson says. And Malcolm X's urge to see the world for himself was another source of inspiration. "This basic approach of just getting there and witnessing has become my job," he says. Malcolm X's " constant search, his relentless curiosity, his willingness to face unpleasant facts and reinvent himself, set an example that I?ve tried to follow ever since."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0404Tacita Dean20161103

The video artist Tacita Dean describes how "Fires" by Marguerite Yourcenar changed her life and art. She discovered the book of prose poems as an undergraduate. "Somehow, her pithy and uncompromising language appealed to me, and my own love tragedy," she says. Yourcenar's work helped her find her voice as a feminist, writer and film-maker. "She gave a female voice to my passionate and romantic younger self who was trying to find an artistic context for the desire I had to reach out and touch the classical past."

Producer: Smita Patel.

The artist Tacita Dean describes how "Fires" by Marguerite Yourcenar changed her life and art. She discovered the book of prose poems as an undergraduate. "Somehow, her pithy and uncompromising language appealed to me, and my own love tragedy," she says. Yourcenar's work helped her find her voice as a feminist, writer and film-maker. "She gave a female voice to my passionate and romantic younger self who was trying to find an artistic context for the desire I had to reach out and touch the classical past."

0405Sir Richard Eyre20161104

Film and theatre director Sir Richard Eyre describes how he was inspired by "The People's War" by Angus Calder. This social history of the Second World War relives the experience of ordinary citizens during the conflict: "their endurance and patience and their cowardice, complaints, and selfishness, as much as their heroism and humanity." It provided Eyre with a vision - albeit unfulfilled - of social justice, which was in sight during the social revolution of wartime. "So I return to this book, this litany of courage and misery and endurance and hardship - the only book I return to constantly and obsessively - for solace."

Producer: Smita Patel.

0501Wide Sargasso Sea20180402

Journalist and writer Afua Hirsch discusses "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys, the story of the forgotten first wife of Mr Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. Encountering Rhys's novel aged 14, Hirsch detested her account of a Creole girl growing up in 1830s Jamaica. Re-reading it much later in life, she came to believe that "it is one of the most perfect books ever written in the English language. The sparsity of Rhys's painfully meticulous sentences, which so alienated the teenage me, touches me now - a writer myself - as the work of a genius." The novel helped shape her thinking on Britishness. "Race is everywhere. Its legacy is real and traumatic. You can't opt out of it or - as so many people in contemporary Britain attempt to do - claim not to see it."

Producer Smita Patel
Editor Hugh Levinson.

How journalist and writer Hirsch changed her view of Jean Rhys's novel.

0502war and peace20180403

Neurosurgeon and writer Henry Marsh on how "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy began a teenage love affair with all things Russian. "I burned the plastic coating off my NHS spectacle frames to reveal the revolutionary intellectual steel inside. And bought a young Communist League badge which I could wear on my black polo neck pullover." Marsh later drove across Europe to begin the first of many stints as a volunteer surgeon in Ukraine. "My life might easily have careered off in an entirely different direction if it had not been for Tolstoy," he says.

Producer Smita Patel
Editor Hugh Levinson.

0503The Arabian Nights 20180404

From Monarchs to Presidents. Joanne Paul on satire, flattery and document leaks in the C16 and C17 centuries and the relevance of strategies for telling truth to those who hold power over us now.
Zarah Hussain explains how The Arabian Nights inspired her as an artist. On discovering the book as a child, she found "the book was absolutely beautiful...There was a border of pink and blue arabesque flowers and a central image of a King wearing a gold crown and beautiful robes in conversation with a Queen similarly bedecked in robes. The floor and walls were covered in repeating geometric patterns....they came from a different world, a faraway place, but a place that was somehow familiar to me."
Producer: Smita Patel.

050420180405

Tony Blair's former spokesman, on how Gustave Flaubert's novel gave him a lifetime love of French culture. "It is a love that has endured. I like reading French, speaking French, listening to French. Every year of my adult life, I have spent a part of it in France, and the older I get, the more freedom I seem to have to go there, and so the more I exploit that freedom."
Producer: Smita Patel.

0505Pyramids20180406

The poet and playwright describes how he was influenced by the comic novel "Pyramids". "When I opened the first few pages...it is no exaggeration to say my whole world changed," he recalls. As a twelve-year-old Nigerian migrant to London, Ellams found that Pratchett's hilarious fantasy world helped him in his transition to his new homeland. "If I could give myself and belong so completely and entirely to his world, which mirrored Britain, then perhaps I could belong to Britain itself."
Producer: Smita Patel.