THE 10 BOOKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
WORLD BOOK DAY
As we celebrate World Book Day, I am reminded of the books that have had a huge impact on my life. As a child, I loved solitude and became an avid reader looking forward to going to the library far more than I would a birthday party.
To me the libraries of my youth were more than just sources of curated information. They were the playground for my very active imagination and they represented possibilities of escape and the freedom to immerse myself in another world entirely.
I decided to share some of the books that changed my worldview and dare I add,
even my life.
1. Children's Dictionary
My very first book was a children’s dictionary given to me by our neighbours Mr and Mrs Hopps (yes that was really their name). They were such a wonderful elderly couple and they loved my family so much. The very first word I remember from that book is “accident” which was followed by the image of an ambulance. I truly treasured that book and have very fond memories of all the pictures.
2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
I was ten when I discovered this book and everytime I read it I find out new things about it. I was probably too young to appreciate the psychological unravelling of the central character at a time of change and social unrest brought by colonisation. The book chronicles the life of Okonkwo, a well respected leader of his tribe who had pulled himself up by the bootstraps, worked very hard to attain some of the highest honours of the land and had appeared to seemingly distance himself from the legacy of shame and reproach of his lazy father.
Events then take a different turn when he gets banished from the community for accidentally killing a clansman. He flees with his wives and children to his mother’s village and after 7 years returns. However, there has been a great deal of change and he is no longer the young man with the strength and vigour he once possessed. Although the novel ends with Okonkwo’s tragic suicide, this was the first time I would see rich African history depicted through an African lens in fiction.
3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
This book was selected for my literature class when I was 12 and I remember devouring it in one sitting. The book opens with Oliver’s mother giving birth to him and asking to see her baby before she dies. The quick transition between life and death was quite shocking to me at that age. I also had to get my head round the notion of the existence of a poorhouse, a workhouse and an orphanage.
As we progress through the novel, we discover more about the bravery and vulnerability of the central character Oliver and how he goes from a dreadful life in an orphanage to an abusive life in a foster home. He then falls in with a gang of pickpockets and gets exploited further. I cried and was so thankful that he ended up finding kindness and love and care with the best of society. The book is a reflection of the social history of the Victorian era and it is sad that some of those ills including abuse, exploitation, human trafficking still happens today.
4. The New Floral Artist by Paula OBE
At some point in my life, I became obsessed with flower arranging. I’d always loved flowers so it was natural to explore ways I could learn about the art of floral design. I bought lots of books on the subject, and even learned about Japanese and Danish flower arranging techniques. The book that really blew my mind was Paula Pryke’s book which was published in 1996.
She used fruit, berries, twigs, leaves (monstera leaves anyone?) in ways I’d never seen before. As soon as I could, I enrolled in some of her classes, bringing home with me some of the most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen. I also took classes with the incredible Kenneth Turner (my first TV appearance was working in the background whilst he was being filmed for Sky TV), Ercole Moroni at MacQueens and Jane Packer.
5. Colette's Cakes: The Art of Cake Decorating
Many years ago I stumbled on a photograph of a wedding cake in a bridal magazine that stopped me in my tracks. I’d never seen anything like it before. I then discovered that it was the work of a renowned American cake designer, Colette Peters. The cake looked like a stack of gold, silver and white wedding gift boxes. It was so realistically done with so many edible textures and patterns that even the bows were made of sugar. I somehow tracked her down and found out that she had written a book. I ordered the book via Foyles bookstore and waited with bated breath for two months for it to arrive. The book is still the best cake decorating book in my opinion and it was way, way ahead of its time.
That wasn’t enough for me and I simply had to meet her. So I took all my annual leave and savings and headed off to Florida where she was teaching. I took several classes and found Colette to be the most humble and gracious of teachers. The cakes I made in her class still have pride of place in my heart and gave me the confidence to think of possibly owning my own business some day.
6. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T Kiyosaki
This book was probably one of the first business books I had ever read. I was a humble scientist with my career trajectory all mapped out and thought I would probably have been happy to retire as one. However, life had other plans and I was (thankfully) being frustrated out of my job. I stumbled on this book and it was a real eye opener. It was about financial literacy and the key lessons for me were:
- The rich and the poor talk about different things at the dinner table
- Schools don’t teach financial literacy
- Take a risk and set up a business
- How the tax system works
- Money is an invention of the rich
- It is better to work to learn and the money will follow
This book was a mindset shift from me and gave me the confidence to take a bold step in setting up my cake business.
7. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Opinion may be divided about this book but what it succeeds in doing is sparking internal and external debate. Is success really based on access to opportunity and the amount of time spent on mastering a task?. There is a saying that it’s no what you know but who you know. I say it’s not who you know, but who knows you. Malcolm believes that it takes approximately 10,000 hours for full mastery to develop and I somewhat agree with him as someone who has probably made at least 50,000 sugar flowers and I’m still learning. The key learnings for me include the fact that opportunity does indeed knock for some if they are at the right place at the right time, so it does not hurt to be always prepared. Also is your work values driven and meaningful and what kind of legacy would you leave.
8. Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Dr Spencer Johnson
This is a very small book and so easy to read. I go back to it often when I need to give myself a kick up the backside. It’s a very good and simplistic book on meeting and managing change. Change can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective. The book examines action versus inaction and what your particular ‘cheese’ might be.
9. The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith
These series of books have been the chicken soup for my soul. The books tell the story of main character Precious Ramotswe, a traditionally built African lady who set up a detective agency in Botswana. We come to know and love the many people in Mma Ramotswe’s life including her quiet and gentle husband, her shoe loving, very blunt assistant Mma Makutsi, and even her abusive ex husband also makes the odd appearance.
We read about some of her struggles as a business owner, wife and mother of two adopted children (one with special needs) and she has the ability to see the opportunity in a problem, sometimes using unorthodox methods in solving some of her clients’ cases. Although she reveres an old-school detective named Clovis Anderson and carries around his book, The Principles of Private Detection, she often ends up doing exactly the opposite of what he recommends and I suppose many of us can identify with that.
10. Opulencia: Artisan Baking & Sugarcraft by Elizabeth Solaru
Yes, I wrote a book. Never in a million years did I think I would but I did. I wrote the book to celebrate 10 years of my luxury cake business and it was an opportunity to showcase my beautiful cakes. The writing was a slow, painstaking process with many disappointments along the way, but I kept the faith. For me the learning was immense and I am so grateful to all those who rallied round and helped make it a bestseller. One of the key learnings for me was to follow my heart and trust my instincts. The book won awards and became a collector’s item. I am thankful that on every world book day, I can also be counted as an author.
So here you have it. Thank you for allowing me to share a few of my favourite books with you and I also want to highlight a wonderful charity, worldbookday.com Their mission is to promote reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person the opportunity to have a book of their own. Because reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success (more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income) they want to see more children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, develop a life-long habit of reading for pleasure and have the improved life chances this brings them.
“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
– Harry S. Truman