David Lammy: ‘The book I’m ashamed not to have read? Animal Farm’

The MP on missing out on Orwell, his love for Arthur Miller, and laughing at picture books

The book I am currently reading
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna. It is a sweeping love story set over decades about the mental and physical scars caused by civil war in Sierra Leone – a hard-hitting, heartbreaking tale of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

The book that changed my life
Roots by Alex Haley. I read it, probably too young, as a teenager. It was the first time I properly understood what it meant to be the descendant of slaves.

The book I wish I’d written
It’s a play not a book, but Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. I love the theatre and Miller is one of my all-time favourite playwrights. All My Sons is a very socialist play, which exposes the lack of empathy that can accompany capitalism when it is left unchecked.

The book I think is most overrated
David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. Goodhart’s prescription for progressives and liberals to accommodate populist nationalism, rather than offer a hopeful, inclusive alternative to it, is a road to somewhere dangerous.

The book that changed my mind
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance made me entirely rethink US republicanism, Donald Trump and the American white working class. On the surface, the world he described is very different to the inner-city poverty in Tottenham I grew up in, but the humanity, colour and empathy in Vance’s writing showed what we have in common.

The last book that made me cry
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

The last book that made me laugh
Who’s in the Loo? by Jeanne Willis. Nothing sets me off in a fit of laughter like hearing my six-year-old daughter giggle. This is a book we have read together over and over again, but still keeps us laughing.

The book I couldn’t finish
The Pardoner’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. I had to study it in sixth form. I have never struggled with the language and the density of a book as much as this. Needless to say, I have stayed away from The Canterbury Tales ever since.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
Animal Farm by George Orwell.

My earliest reading memory
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. When I was a young child and before he had left us for the US, my father would give me Mark Twain novels. In the characters, the weather and the context, my father must have seen many parallels to his own youth in the Caribbean in the 1930s and 40s.

The book I give as a gift
I am at the stage of my career where a lot of people who work for me, or have worked for me, are settling down and starting families, so I find myself giving them On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo. As someone who was anxious about becoming a father, in part because I have lacked one for most of my life, I found this book was a great comfort.

• David Lammy’s Tribes: How Our Need to Belong Can Make Or Break Society is published by Constable (RRP £20). To buy a copy go to guardianbookshop.com.


David Lammy

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
David Peace: ‘My comfort read? Old Labour party manifestos’
The novelist on the brilliance of Bulgakov, the Japanese short story that changed him, and wanting to live in Pogles’ Wood

David Peace

30, Jul, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
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

Taiye Selasi

18, May, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Tribes by David Lammy review – how to mend our divided society
Episodes of memoir, including DNA tests, a police frisking and a death threat, enliven the Labour MP’s first-rate study of social division

Colin Grant

29, Feb, 2020 @11:58 AM

Article image
Alan Johnson: ‘I read Animal Farm at 14 and it changed my life’
The author and former home secretary on disliking Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and his fondness for PG Wodehouse

Alan Johnson

17, Sep, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Andrew Miller: ‘Should I have read Don Quixote? War and Peace? Huckleberry Finn? Probably'
The novelist on why Penelope Fitzgerald is underrated and the book that changed his mind about science fiction

Andrew Miller

21, Dec, 2018 @10:01 AM

Article image
David Baddiel: 'I don't really have shame as an emotion'
The writer and comedian on admiring John Updike, crying over Station Eleven and laughing at Alan Partridge

David Baddiel

03, Jul, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Andrew O'Hagan: 'The last book to make me cry? For the Record by David Cameron'
The author on gifting copies of Danez Smith’s Homie, feeling disillusioned by Morrissey and the book that changed his life

Andrew O'Hagan

25, Sep, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Thomas Keneally: ‘Does anyone write a good book at 83? Well, I think I have’’
The Australian novelist on crying over a Dickens biography, laughing at Kathy Lette and the classic he is ashamed not to have read

Thomas Keneally

06, Dec, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Out of the Ashes by David Lammy – review

The MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, provides a plausible explanation for the 2011 riots, says David Matthews

David Matthews

09, Dec, 2011 @3:52 PM

Article image
Out of the Ashes by David Lammy – review

David Lammy has not grasped the scale of the community's mistrust of the police and the judicial system in his analysis of the August riots, says Stafford Scott

Stafford Scott

09, Dec, 2011 @3:52 PM