David Hare : Books that changed my life

David Hare is a British playwright, theatre and film director and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. He shares the books that changed him

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde  

Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde book cover

I fell in love with Oscar Wilde at the age of ten. In 1960, when I was 13, I embarked, with two other friends from the Thalia School of Drama in Bexhill-on-Sea, to do a puppet performance of The Importance of Being Earnest. Even heavily cut, it was very hard work.

The string work required to pass cucumber sandwiches between puppets was way beyond us. But we loved the dialogue and we raised a fair amount of money for charity. At Cambridge University, much to the horror of the puritanical English department, I did a dissertation on Wilde. Generous, witty, and original, Wilde’s been with me all the way.

The Third Man by Graham Greene

The Third Man cover

It never had occurred to me that a film script could be published, until, at some time in the late 1960s, the BFI (I think) published the full text of The Third Man, illustrated with stills from the film.

It was a revelation, and an education in the profession of screenwriting which I would eventually take up. It’s every writer’s dream to be both good and popular, but Greene is one of the few who has achieved it in my lifetime. His novel, The End of the Affair, affected me so profoundly because it made me realise how important romantic love would be to me—something of which I, up till then, had no inkling.

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt

Eichmann in Jerusalem cover

George Steiner at Cambridge used to lecture about Western civilisation being terminated at Auschwitz. He was a lone voice, because in those days nobody talked about the camps. It was only with the winning of the Six Day War in Israel in 1967 that survivors’ guilt finally lessened, and the atrocities became commonly discussed.

Meanwhile I had finally read Hannah Arendt. I had never imagined that a philosopher could so urgently address profound questions which actually mattered in everyday life. Her 1963 account of how evil may be done by quite ordinary people has never been surpassed.

His new book, We Travelled: Essays And Poems is out now, published by Faber&Faber  

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