Summer Reads: Rizwan Khan

Rizwan Khan, the former TV and radio personality who has a passion for medicine, lets us in on his favourite reads for the summer months.

The former TV and radio presenter Rizwan Khan. Jeff Topping / The National
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The British news presenter and author Rizwan ("Riz") Khan has been reading for as long as he can remember. Born in 1962 in Aden, South Yemen, to a Punjabi father and a Gujarati mother, he was educated by nuns as a child. "They encouraged me to read and I developed a passion for books which has lasted my whole life," he says, adding that he later moved to London.

"My parents divorced when I was six years old. My main influences therefore were my mother and her brother - my uncle, whose books I used to read. My mother had little time to herself and as children she would often leave us in the library while she ran around and did things like shopping or getting her hair done.

"I read all kinds of books. I loved Tin Tin and Asterix and anything by Enid Blyton, which is sort of a statement for British kids. By the age of 12, I was reading books on paranormal psychology and the supernatural."

As a young man, Khan was shy. "I used to have long hair and wear an earring," he laughs. "I was very much into music too - I play the drums. But I've always loved people, and growing up in West London I had a lot of friends from diverse backgrounds - I was South Asian but from the Middle East and I think that allowed me to cross ethnic, religious and cultural boundaries."

Although now a well-known media figure, Khan originally intended to be a doctor and after school attended the University of Wales where he obtained a degree in medical physiology, specialising in neurology and, in particular, how the mind works. Despite completing the degree, he never fully qualified due to being ineligible for a grant for further study. Instead he attended a private college, which ran a post-graduate course in radio journalism, with the plan of earning enough money in radio to return to the study of medicine.

It never happened. Spending eight years with the BBC, Khan became the first mainstream South Asian newsreader for their international network and hosted the news bulletin that launched the BBC World Service Television News in November 1991. He later moved to CNN as a senior news anchor and in 1996 was given his own interview show. He joined the Al Jazeera network in 2005 to host its flagship programme, Riz Khan - a daily live show featuring interviews with the top names in world news.

These days, Khan runs an international production company. He also works as a media consultant and a moderator at international conferences. He's also an author. Earlier this year, he was in Dubai taking part in the Emirates Festival of Literature 2012.

His first book, Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince, was published in 2005. "That came about after I made a documentary on the subject and found I had too much material," he says.

He recently finished another book to be published next year titled We Interrupt Our Programming, this time a novel, which he describes as "a spoof view of the international news business".

Khan lives in Washington but spends much of his time travelling. He says he misses his six-year-old daughter Zara who's in New York. "She's a mini-me," he says proudly, smiling at the mention of her name. "She has the same crazy energy levels as me.

"And no matter where I am in the world, I try to keep in touch with her. In fact, I rang her just before this interview and asked her what she was doing. She said, 'Daddy, I'm going to Barnes and Noble and if I'm really good Grandma is going to buy me two books'."

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

A book I've read four times in total and one which had a big impact on me is The Lord of the Rings. When I first read it, I was quite young and I think it was just the right time in my life. I concentrated on the adventure part back then, but later I went deeper into it. I actually had a dream after reading it the first time that the ship was sailing off and I was crying and waving goodbye to Frodo.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is a brilliant depiction of the British character and it moved me a lot. Despite the fact that the author is Japanese, he really got under the skin of the typical British personality. Growing up in the British colony of Aden, I was very aware of the post-Second World War colonial types.

The World According to Garp by John Irving

John Irving wrote The Cider House Rules and a number of other great books such as The Son of a Circus, but The World According to Garp is my favourite. It was given to me by a friend a few years ago; because he said the main character in it reminded him of me. I'm not sure that I agree, because he's completely wacky, but there are aspects of him that I can relate to.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram really struck a chord with me. Besides the fact that it's beautifully written, it's set in Bombay [Mumbai] and I've always connected with that part of India because I'm actually half Punjabi. What's more, I've long had a dilemma with the vast difference between the poverty and the wealth of the city and I liked the way Gregory David Roberts handled the poverty in his writing.

Gray's Anatomy by Dr Henry Gray

I really became a TV and radio presenter by accident and I always intended to return to medicine once I'd earned the fees for further study, but it never happened. Medicine is, however, still a great passion of mine and Gray's Anatomy is to this day a brilliant source of medical information. I could spend hours reading it.

The History of the World in 10 and Chapters by Julian Barnes

I really enjoyed this book, which is a collection of short stories in very different styles. Some are historical; others fictitious and at some point they very subtly connect. It's very quirky but brilliantly written. Julian Barnes has a very unusual mind - the material he comes out with is really off the wall but I like it.