With the Off The Shelf festival of words up and running, we asked a few Sheffielders what books have had the most impact on them.
Roger Bingham, actor
GROWING up in the Fifties I wasn’t a great reader apart from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and following the adventures of Dan Dare in the Eagle and the constant match winning exploits of Roy of the Rovers in the Tiger. What changed things was a television production of David Copperfield. I naturally hated the love element but was totally fascinated by the wonderful characters like Mr Micawber, Betsey Trotwood, Peggotty and Uriah Heep. I immediately read the book and went on to read the other books to seek out the other vivid and gritty stories and the endless list of colourful characters. To this day I await the call to play Micawber, Magwitch and many others, although having seen Simon Callow’s wonderful Dickens characters on stage I will leave it to the experts.
I have always loved the big American musicals like Oklahoma and Carousel and this along with my uncle’s stock of National Geographic spawned a love of American fiction from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men to the works of Ernest Hemingway. Naturally as an actor my feeling for Shakespeare matches Dickens as a classic storyteller, creator of characters and above all a wonderful use of language.
Paul Blomfield, Sheffield Central MP
WEEKLY visits to Greenhill Library, just opposite my junior school, took me through everything from Billy Bunter to the Borrowers. Secondary school introduced me to Thomas Hardy through ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’
and I read lots of his books, absorbed by his stories although often frustrated by his characters. As I became aware of the wider world, I read Trevor Huddleston’s searing critique of racism and hypocrisy, ‘Naught For Your Comfort’. Much later I was fortunate to work with Trevor in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, where he was just as inspirational as his book. It might seem predictable for a Labour politician, but Robert Tressell’s ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ had a genuine impact on me, particularly on the challenges in building support for progressive change. The only frustration of my current job is not having enough time to read, but I recently finished Catherine Bailey’s ‘Black Diamonds’, which was lent to me by my parliamentary colleague John Healey. It’s a graphic insight into South Yorkshire mining life and beats ‘Downton Abbey’ for aristocratic intrigue. There’s some great thinking going on at the University of Sheffield on democratic engagement and, having recently read Colin Hay’s ‘Why We Hate Politics’, next on my list is Matt Flinders’ ‘Defending Politics’.”
Rosie Brown, jazz singer
THEY are too many to mention but here’s a selection. I love the Japanese author Haruki Murakami . His novels take you into a world of magical realism where fish rain down from the sky, cat’s talk and people slip in and out of alternate realities (Murakami used to own a jazz club and is a great jazz lover coincidentally). I love his attention to everyday culinary details which are a constant reference and the way music of all genres weaves itself in and out of the plots. His books are perfect escapism.
At school it had to be Orwell’s 1984 which I still think is relevant now.
In terms of books I read at home there was always plenty of stuff around fortunately. Lots of fiction classics like Hardy and George Eliot and Jane Austen but lots of non fiction too which really opened my eyes. I read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch which had a profound impact on me as a 14-year-old making me look at the world very differently as did John Bergers’s Ways of Seeing. Alvin Toffler’s future shock in which he coined the term “information overload”. I think I got all that radical reading courtesy of a much older brother who had gone off to university and brought back modernity in the forms of these exotic bookshelves.
Rev Canon Julian Sullivan, Vicar of St Mary’s
“CANNERY Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” So begins a book which has been for me a fellow traveller down the years, insightful of the human predicament.
Here are stories about a blend of misfits who inhabit a part of Monterey close to the waterfront, the sardine canneries, tin shacks, old boilers and rusting pipes. John Steinbeck draws the inhabitants with warmth, humour and compassion: Lee Chong the grocer, Mac and the boys, Dora and Doc a marine biologist. They survive side by side in this exotic neighbourhood.
Look at them one way and you see outcasts but look again and you will find “Saints and angels.” Today we find it easy to reduce individuals to a stereotype or a problem. Cannery Row shows us how much we lose when we do this, opening our eyes to a rich humanity in those we easily dismiss.
Here we find honour, generosity of spirit and human dignity in the place we expect not to find it and we are enriched far more than we could have imagined.
Jamie Bosworth, chef
THERE are two books that I have felt inspired by in my life and career.
The first is Practical Cookery by Ronald Kinton and Victor Ceserani. I have now lost my copy which had my name inscribed into the page ends with marker pen so as not to lose it.
This was a popular trainee chef’s bible back in the late 1980s when I was training and has been around since the 1970s and now has been re written to include classical French and contemperary recipes. It now has pictures but back then when I was 17 year old it was pure black and white but nevertheless was a stepping block into the world of a chef.
The other was The Sugar Club Cookbook which I bought in 1998 after visiting the then Notting Hill restaurant owned and run by Kiwi chef Peter Gordon. I was that blown away with his heady mix of Southern Hemisphere versus Pacific Rim-style cuisine, I still pick it up now for a blast of inspiration from the much reworked Seared Scallops with Sweet Chilli Jam or new combos such as Kangeroo with Lemongrass dressing.
Marcia Layne, playwright
BOOKS, books, books, from the Holy Bible to the Oxford English dictionary, they’ve been a constant companion since I was about seven years old.
Maya Angelou’s autobiographical I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a huge inspiration growing up. Set in the segregated South of America, it spoke to me on many levels, was beautifully written and painfully honest. Reading a book by and about a black woman was a gift for a young girl wanting to be an author.
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has the honour of being the first book to ever make me cry. I don’t mean dignified Sinead O’Connor-type tears.
Unforgettable was the jaw-dropping brilliance of Chinua Achebe’s portrayal of cultural decimation in Things Fall Apart which managed to both creep up on me and hit me like a train. A masterpiece.
Finally, I wasn’t surprised Elizabeth Gilbert’s vivid and uplifting Eat, Pray, Love compelled women to run off and book various flights to retrace her footsteps. If I wasn’t such a serial procrastinator and a responsible mother, of course, I may have done the same.
Michael Kontou, Sheffield Oaks RUFC
IF I had to pick a book that has personally impacted on me, it would have to be the biography, Engage - The Rise and Fall of Matt Hampson, the account of a promising rugby prop forward whose life changed in an instant.
Matthew Hampson had played rugby all his life and was on the brink of breaking through to the Leicester Tigers first team, but had it all snatched away from him after a freak accident training with the England U21s.
I play rugby, and in exactly the same position as Hampson. I have been involved in games when scrums have collapsed, but I have always been able to walk away. Matt Hampson suffered a neck break which severed his spine, meaning he will never walk again and must use a ventilator to breathe.
His story gives a frank and honest account of the events leading up to, and after the accident, including details of his personal life, how he was treated by the NHS and the RFU and how he has channelled his misfortune to become an inspirational example to us all.
This book has the potential to both make you laugh and make you cry. But above all, it teaches you how to value all that you have.