A love of florid diction and flowery prose aside, when I was growing up – a highly imaginative only child – the pleasure of reading was proportional to how strongly I wanted to “be” the character, even getting my parents to call me Scarlett, Scout or vampire Cian for days. In the order that I poured through them, here are books with protagonists who appealed to my alter ego.
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (1943)
From the slippery slope in Moon-Face’s house to Dame Slap-a-Lot’s school for mischievous children, everything about this tree and the lands that appeared above it remain fascinating to this day. I climbed many a banyan in the hope of meeting tree-dwelling elves. And the character I most yearned to be? Silky the fairy, with her delicate touch and delicious pop biscuits.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
The tree-climbing tom- boy in me was thrilled to meet Scout Finch in this poignant book on racial inequality. Her thorn-tattered clothes, play-acting histrionics and obsession with mysterious neighbour Boo echoed the tricks we got up to in our ramshackle playground in 1990s Bombay. The book also served as a gut-wrenching introduction to the horrors of racism.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)
Anti-heroine Rebecca Sharp was a creature unlike any I had come across. Not one to be put off by her lack of connections, Becky may have been cold and calculating on the surface, but her heart was in the right place. The backseat role that women played – or didn’t, as in Becky’s case – in Victorian times was another unfamiliar, morbidly fascinating theme.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Scarlett O’Hara stayed with me for months after I put down this well-thumbed tome. Her fierce determination to claw her way out of Civil War-era poverty was almost as captivating as her devious ways and utter lack of compunction. And, of course, Rhett Butler remains the one man who invariably pops up in my head when I hear the words “Mr Right”.
Valley of Silence by Nora Roberts (2003)
Although by no means a classic like the others on this list, this page-turner took me away from the oft-unimaginative drag that can be adult-land, and inserted me into a world of sorcerers and shape-shifters. Above all, it occupied many a daydream about what I’d do with my time if I were Cian, the immortal vampire: learn every language in the world, and befriend Buffy.
Panna Munyal is the deputy lifestyle editor of The National