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Ben Aitken: Books that changed my life

Ben Aitken: Books that changed my life

Author of Here Comes the Fun, The Gran Tour and The Marmalade Diaries, Ben Aitken talks about three books that influenced him and changed his life

Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

This was the first book I ever read. I was eighteen. For this reason alone, its impact was huge. It stopped me in my tracks. It gave me pause for thought. It made me wonder if—compared to golf and football and Catchphrase and Baywatch, which accounted for most of my spare time in those days—reading wasn’t so bad an option after all.

What was it about the novel that did a job on me? Maybe I could relate to the protagonist. Which is odd when you consider that she was a thirty-something journalist living in London with a crush on Hugh Grant, and I wasn’t.

"I could relate to the protagonist, even though she was a journalist living in London with a crush on Hugh Grant, and I wasn’t"

Not long after breaking my duck with Bridget, I applied to study English Literature at Oxford University. (I’ve always had a good sense of humour.) I made clear in my application that while Nick Faldo remained my chief area of interest, the work of Helen Fielding had excited a fondness for the written word. I didn’t get in. Though I like to think it was a close-run thing.

Bridget Jones's Diary book cover

Buy Bridget Jones's Diary from Amazon

Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson

If Bridget Jones got me reading, Bill Bryson got me writing. The first book I wrote was an irreverent homage to Bryson’s iconic travelogue. About twenty years after the publication of Notes from a Small Island, and for reasons that remain a mystery to me, I chose to retrace Bryson’s journey around the UK.

"About twenty years after its publication, and for no good reason, I chose to retrace Bryson’s journey around the UK"

Starting in Dover, I followed Bryson’s footsteps as precisely as possible—same hotels, same restaurants, same amount of time in the bath—before ending up outside the author’s house in Yorkshire, hoping for a cup of tea. He wasn’t in.

I left Bill a note communicating what I’d done and how much he meant to me. He left me in no doubt regarding the future of our relation. Hey-ho.  

Gertrude by Herman Hesse

I’m tempted to say that the third book that had a big impact on my life was Bridget Jones’s Baby, but in truth I’ve not yet had the good fortune of reading the final instalment in Fielding’s ground-breaking triptych.

"It has a significant teaching: that when you’re feeling emphatically rubbish, and life’s doing nothing for you, help others"

Instead, I’m going to nominate Gertrude by Herman Hesse. Beautiful prose. A memorable story. And a significant teaching: that when you’re feeling emphatically rubbish, and life’s doing nothing for you, help others. That’s always stayed with me, and I’m better for the fact.     

Gertrude book cover

Buy Gertrude on Amazon

Here Comes the Fun: a year of making merry by Ben Aitken is published by Icon Books, £16,99

Here Comes the Sun book cover

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