It’s no secret that I love reading, so I always look forward to Book Week Scotland events. I developed a love of reading from a young age and it’s one of the reasons I created the First Minister’s Reading Challenge – to help inspire children and young people to read for pleasure. Reading opens up a whole new world of adventure and fun and also helps develop and improve children’s literacy. I love to see how enthusiastic young people are about the books they’re reading.
This year, Maggie O’Farrell and I were asked to choose our five favourite books on the theme of rebellious characters ahead of our public discussion event. It was difficult to narrow it down to five, but I managed to pick a few that have influenced me from my youth.
One of my favourite books of all time is Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. Its strong female protagonist Chris Guthrie definitely had an impact on my thinking around gender and feminism. It also opened my eyes to parts of the country I didn’t know much about when I was younger.
Another book that had a big impact on me as a young woman was She Came to Stay, the semi-autobiographical novel by Simone de Beauvoir, an examination of fidelity and freedom, against the backdrop of pre-second world war Paris.
And The Color Purple by Alice Walker strongly influenced my teenage years. It’s a very powerful read and I can still remember how it made me feel: sad and angry but also hopeful, because there’s such a positive vibe around the human spirit in that book, and the power of friendship and love to overcome even the worst injustices in the world.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a compelling book – storytelling at its best. A study in guilt and remorse and psychological examination, not of who did it but why.
And Ali Smith’s Autumn: earlier this year I had the privilege to interview her at the Edinburgh international book festival. She is a fantastic author and Autumn, the first of a series of four novels based on the seasons, is a glorious book that captures the feeling of confusion and division in the immediate post-Brexit period better than anything I have read since.
Reading helps me escape and switch off after a busy day and I especially like to read fiction. But it isn’t just a great way to relax, it can help deepen your understanding and empathy with people, cultures and countries that you have no direct experience of. I hope my book recommendations will help people discover something new to enjoy.