Lemn Sissay: ‘My guilty pleasure is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher – no more films, OK?

The author and poet on what he learned from Malcolm X, Ladybird books and the exciting movement in African sci-fi

The book I am currently reading
Bahru Zewde’s A History of Modern Ethiopia. I bought it from a bookseller on the streets of Addis Ababa.

The book that changed my life
Every book I read changes me in one way or another. Something is created in me through reading and so I am changed. That’s the beauty of reading, isn’t it? There was no Catcher in the Rye or Fire Next Time moment. But then I didn’t go to university. It’s a different journey through books for me.

The book I wish I’d written
Binti, a science fiction novella by Nnedi Okorafor. There is an exciting movement in African science fiction happening right now and Binti is the gateway drug. Okorafor’s imagination is limitless.

The book that had the greatest influence on me
I read Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White while locked in Wood End Assessment Centre in Wigan and realised that I was catching fire myself.

The book I give as a gift
Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale. It is subversive, brilliantly researched and committed.

The book that is most underrated
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively won the Booker prize in the 1980s. Can a book be a winner and also be underrated? Prejudice knows no bounds.

The book that changed my mind
The autobiography of Malcolm X taught me that a real hero chooses the road less travelled: popularity is no measure of integrity.

The last book that made me cry and laugh
Bantam by Jackie Kay. Her poetic salutation to her family and to Scotland moves me every time.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
I’d like to be remembered for the Odyssey but that was written by Homer so no chance of that. As for my books, my memoir My Name Is Why. It is the truth of what happened.

My earliest reading memory
Sitting at a table at infant school with my finger on a drawing in a Ladybird book. Ladybirds provided the building blocks of the written word. And from these structures the world opened. The whole world was filled with words waiting for me.

My comfort read
A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes: How I Survived Selling My Record Collection by Dave Haslam. He’s from my time in Manchester and was a DJ at the Hacienda. Once you have discovered him there is no going back.

My guilty pleasure
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. But no more films, OK?

My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay is published by Canongate (£16.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99. Sissay will appear at the London Literature Festival on 18 October.


Lemn Sissay

The GuardianTramp

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