Daljit Nagra: ‘Shuggie Bain had me in bits’

The book I am currently reading
Poetry in a Global Age by Jahan Ramazani. His key argument is that poetry is inherently constructed by a network of global engagements, this being the most generous way to appreciate a text.

The book that changed my life
At the age of 19, I found William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience in an independent bookshop in Sheffield; it was the first time I’d read poetry and I’ve yet to stop reading it.

The book I wish I’d written
Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read. It is annoyingly insightful about parenting; each time my wife mentions it, I’d like to say: “Oh, that book I wrote!”

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Derek Walcott’s The Star-Apple Kingdom. Discovering an exciting poet of colour and one who employed voices gave me licence to be linguistically licentious (archaic meaning of this word only, please!)

The book that changed my mind
I was freed from the embarrassment of my Indian heritage by Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks: “For it is implicit that to speak is to exist absolutely for the other.”

The last book that made me cry
The final scene between mother and son in Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart has a triple deployment of loo roll; by the final use, I was in bits. Whoever uses the leitmotif of loo roll to excite teardrops in the reader?

The last book that made me laugh
Vahni Capildeo’s Measures of Expatriation is complicatedly funny, and I love the unexpected moments of wit.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
Sometime in the future, when I retire, the first book I’ll read is The Faerie Queene deur Edmund Spenser, having so far only read sections of it. It’s such a forbidding venture that hopefully it’ll keep me from retiring.

The book I give as a gift
Richard Scott’s Soho is the most gripping portrayal of queer lives I’ve read so far. It always wins me gratitude for my gifting skills.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
In an attempt at humility, I declare an indifference to the value system of legacy! I’d rather focus on the joys of scribbling my next book.

My comfort read
John Milton’s Paradise Lost is one of those rare moments in poetry when language is inside-outside the central tones of English, and I feel at home in this choppy music. Me, highbrow? I wear a bow tie as I compose these answers.

The book I think is most underrated
All About H Hatterr by GV Desani is the precursor to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and kickstarts an exciting strand of literature by writers of Indian heritage. This could also be my answer to “the book that made me laugh”, but placing it here gives it the grandeur it deserves.

Daljit Nagra is the chair of the Royal Society of Literature.

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