Michael Rosen: “My comfort reading? Great expectations’ | Books

My first memory of reading
The first pages of every book I remember reading in Pinner Wood Elementary School were from The Beacon Readers: Stories of Farmer Giles, Rover the Dog, Old Lob the Shepherd and Mrs. Cuddy the Cow. I liked Mrs. Cuddy very much.

My favorite book growing up
The Amazing Pranks of Master Till Eulenspiegel, by L Gombrich, tales of German folk tales about the peasant trickster who outwits townspeople, traders, university professors and aristocrats. I wanted so badly to be Till.

The book that changed me as a teenager
My parents’ shelves were full of books that belonged to their life in the Communist Party. A People’s History of England by AL Morton was the first of these that my teenage years found readable and it suggested that I was experiencing two sides of the story: the one I was studying in school and another, now known as the name of “bottom-up” “version.

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The writer who made me change my mind
In college in the mid-1960s, I met Jamaican politician Trevor Munro – a graduate student at the time. He told me to read Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery. It exposed the inseparable link between Britain and the Empire and how the country’s wealth was sustained by the transatlantic slave trade and the plantations of the Caribbean territories.

The book that made me want to be a writer
Around 16, I became obsessed with A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce. I was absorbed by the feeling of someone trying to get out of an institution, but then I got interested in Joyce’s experimental way of writing.

The book that I reread
I love to re-read Shakespeare’s plays and I constantly find parts that I have overlooked or have not understood before. King Lear, Hamlet, The Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV Part I, Macbeth: their breadth, their power, their thought and their complexity amaze me.

The author to whom I returned
I have read all of Thomas Hardy’s poems and novels except Tess of the D’Urberville and Jude the Obscure. I came to these two much later in life. I loved that they were both idea novels dealing with class, education (or lack of), work, and 19th century forms of oppression.

The book I could never read again
I have fond memories of immersing myself in DH Lawrence’s novels, and found his book of chosen poems very liberating at the time. Maybe I resist reading them now because I fear I will end up regretting that I am no longer this young reader!

The book I discovered later in life
About 30 years ago, I decided to go to an evening French course. Françoise, the tutor, made us read a book I had never heard of, Le Diable au Corps by Raymond Radiguet. It tells the story of an affair between a 16-year-old boy and a young married woman whose husband fought at the front during the First World War.

The book I’m currently reading
The Young Survivors by Debra Barnes. It is a book which overlaps with the experience of my father’s uncle and aunt, who were Polish Jews, naturalized French, delivered by Vichy and deported to Auschwitz. In this story, based on the true story of what happened to Barnes’ mother, five children lose their parents and do what they must do to survive.

My comfort reading
The first chapters of Charles Dickens’ Great Hopes: I remember my father reading it to us in a tent in Yorkshire when I was about 13 years old.

Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickstick, illustrated by Tony Ross, is published by Walker. To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.


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