Robert Webb "Books that changed my life"

Reader's Digest Editors

British comedian, actor and writer, Robert Webb talks to us about the most prominent books throughout his lifetime. His novel, Come Again, is out now, published by Canongate

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

More than any other book, this one made me want to be a writer. Or, to put it more accurately, this book made it clear that you could be very funny in book form, whereas before I only really understood comedy as a TV medium. I grew up in a house where we watched a lot of TV and, frankly, didn’t have many books. So I can’t overstate what a big deal it was that having first watched (and loved) the TV version of Hitchhiker’s, I then picked up the book and thought it was even better! I thought it was a science-fiction story but it’s clear to me now that Adams owes much more to PG Wodehouse than to Arthur C Clarke. A delightful introduction to comic prose and a truly wonderful imagination.

 

Emma by Jane Austen

Another teen discovery and my favourite Austen—probably because it was the first one I read. Mrs Elton’s treatment of “Knightley” was a revelation simply because I hadn’t imagined any book this funny could be considered literature. I loved the way the author seemed to be hovering just a few inches outside her heroine’s head and letting me in on her faulty logic as well as her witty insights. An honorary mention should go to EM Forster here whose books I started to devour at around the same time, partly because of those Merchant Ivory movies. Forster and Austen offered the kindest imaginable introduction to English literature and made it its study seem less foreboding.

 

1984 by George Orwell

I read this when I was 13 which I think might be too young to get this much bad news in one book. It was really the first serious novel I’d come across and in a way it marked the end of my reading childhood. The torture scenes are horrific, obviously, but I was also impressed and upset by so many other ideas: for example, the notion that you could make a concept disappear by banning the word for it. I also felt very grown-up for engaging with the Winston/Julia love story despite its, shall we say, not entirely romantic conclusion. A rites of passage book for me in many ways.

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