Meera Syal is a writer, comedian, singer, playwright and actress. She was awarded a CBE this year for services to drama and literature. Her new novel The House of Hidden Mothers is published by Doubleday this month.

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

To Kill a Mocking Bird

I read this when I was 13, the perfect age to appreciate the big issues it addresses in a brilliantly accessible but emotional way. Atticus Finch shows us the importance of standing up for what’s right, even when no one around you is supportive and you know you’re going to lose. The book gave me guidelines for life, and that’s a very special gift.

 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

By Katherine Boo

Behind The Beautiful Forevers

It’s hard to believe this book is true—it reads like a novel but it’s the faithful, unsentimental representation of the three years Boo spent in a Mumbai slum. While the dwellers’ lives are full of drama, the characters are shown to be no different to the rest of us. They have the same desires and ambitions, and make the same mistakes. Boo shows us that we’re all connected. We’re quick to judge how the poor behave, but this book highlights how much harder it is to lead a corrupt-free life when your options are so reduced.

 

Pride and Prejudice 

by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

There’s so much in Austen’s writing that resonates with Western and Eastern culture. Indeed, when I first read Pride and Prejudice, I thought the characters could be Indian—the way unmarried girls are paraded around and the parental worries about what to do with your daughter when she doesn’t have much of a dowry. Austen was a quietly subversive feminist writer. In Elizabeth Bennett you have a girl who’s too intelligent to play the game, and I really related to that.

 

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