Taiye Selasi: 'I'm ashamed not to have read The Color Purple'

The author recalls being inspired by Arundhati Roy, rereading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and why no book is overrated

The book I am currently reading
Chiara Barzini’s Things that Happened Before the Earthquake. I met the Italian author while I was living in Rome and fell in love with her stories: deliciously dark, unapologetically sensual. I’ve most eagerly awaited her debut novel — and it is a delight.

The book that changed my life
Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I first read Roy at university, when I was struggling to abandon the safety of studying for the wilds of creating. As a lifelong bibliophile, I’d felt that kind of passionate love before. What was new was the sense of being given permission.With her language, her wisdom, her brutal observations rendered in beautiful prose, Roy’s text gave me permission to write in a way that I’d been until then too afraid to attempt. That book suggested what might lie on the other side of my fear.

The book I wish I’d written
Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You. It does in its few perfect pages everything – absolutely everything – that I aspire to do with words.

The book that influenced my writing
Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I’ve always written in circles (I think and speak in them, too), but it wasn’t until reading this I became comfortable with the habit. I return to the book again and again. Teacher, touchstone, style guide.

The book I think is most overrated
No book is overrated. All books that touch a great many people do so for powerful reasons: a fabulous story, a familiar hero, a faithful account of what it is to be human. If these are the reasons that books succeed, then no success is unwarranted.

The book that changed my mind
When I left New York for Rome in 2012 I never imagined I wouldn’t be back. Last year – five years on – I found myself toying with the idea of return. A big city can be, for an artist, a bit like a dashing former lover: you keep thinking that you should get back together even though you know why it didn’t work. Enter Kamin Mohammadi’s Bella Figura: How to Live, Love and Eat the Italian Way – a beautiful meditation on the writer’s relocation from bustling London to bucolic Florence. It changed my mind in an instant, reminding me why I cherish slow living in southern Europe.

The last book that made me cry
Mira Jacob’s tender debut The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing and Katja Meier’s Across the Big Blue Sea, a memoir of her work with West African refugees in Tuscany. More than any sad scene it was the profound candour of both texts that moved me deeply, the quiet portraits of lives lived far from other homes.

The last book that made me laugh
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, and The Sellout by Paul Beatty – both wickedly funny, devastatingly so.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

The books I give as a gift
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis and Teju Cole’s consummate Known and Strange Things.

  • Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is published in paperback by Penguin.


Taiye Selasi

The GuardianTramp

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