Books that inspire

A few weeks ago I posted an article about three non-fiction books that moved me and inspired me partly for the way they were written but also for the content as they were non-fiction. It made me think of what fiction I have read that has had a similar effect on me. I then sat and stared at the wall in my study for a while as I have read many good reads but picking out three left me stumped. So I decided to pick out three unexpectedly good reads, I say they were unexpected because I did not think they would be my kind of thing, but it transpired the opposite was true.

The thing these three books have in common is that I no longer have my copies of them. I went through a phase a few years ago of only keeping non-fiction in a vain effort to preserve some shelf space which was a shame as I gave these books away. Although these days I keep or give away without prejudice to either fiction or non-fiction, I am as ruthless and as loyal to both.

a small placeA Small Place – Jamaica Kincaid

I came across this on a writing course in London run by Shaun Levin if you live in the city and are considering a course I recommend him; he is an encouraging and thoughtful tutor. The course was ideal for me as I worked in that part of London at the time. We read A Small Place for its depth of language and that it works on a number of levels, literary, travelogue and historical. The small place of the title is Antigua and the book is part fiction, part autobiography and is worth reading for the way Jamaica Kincaid uses perspective and different viewpoints to offer her personal view of the island and its history.



lonelyThe Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon

This one was a chance finding; a few years ago the Times ran a series of free books with the weekday edition. The Lonely Londoners was one of them. Published in 1956 it follows the struggles of a group of West Indians in London through their daily lives and mixed success surviving in a new and rather cold land. I liked this book for its authenticity and immediacy and it was like nothing I had read before. It is also set in London which one of the characters describes as a lonely city which is as true now as it was when the book was written.



one day in the lifeA Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I used to be a member of a website called Read-it-Swap-it. This was one of my swaps. I had heard of the book and thought I would give it a try as I was aware of Alexander Solzhenitsyn more for being a dissident during the USSR era than as a novelist. The novel follows a single day in the life Ivan Denisovich, a prisoner in a Russian gulag during the Stalinist era of the early 1950s imprisoned for being a prisoner of the Germans during World War II. Solzhenitsyn was himself interned in a camp for eight years and wrote this book after his release, its power is in the quality of language, the subtle details of survival and arbitrary punishment and the understanding that this was based on the author’s personal experience; it is shocking and quietly moving.

What fiction has inspired you to write?

4 thoughts on “Books that inspire

  1. Being something of a lazy reader, when I was given as a present ‘A Day in the Life of’ I initially put off picking it up, expecting to be harrowed to bits, but in fact couldn’t put it down, and was harrowed to bits!


  2. This is an interesting spread of books. I confess to having read none of them (no surprise there!), but I’m sorely tempted by A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich after your micro-review. Nice post, Peter.


    • I read A Day in the Life of as part of my international GCSE English lit. We did Eastern European writing that year. Great novel and short, but still rich.

      Martine – I would have thought the other books would be good for you to read, as you’re writing about black West Indians in London. Perfect research! ?

      Peter, your experience of black British literature puts me to shame. Two books I haven’t heard of but should read. Thanks for that.

      My surprise hit was Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. More of a thriller than I thought it would be. A student kills an old lady for money , as a philosophical test of social taboos and free will. But he is wracked with guilt and pursued by the police and also seeks redemption throughout the novel. Gripping deep and thought provoking. I recommend the Everyman Library version, which has a fantastic introduction.


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