Getting lost in a book is one of life’s greatest pleasures. While many stories have the ability to fuel an infinite love of reading, there will be always be one – whether it was read as a young child or young adult – that lit that initial spark, opening our eyes to the endless possibilities to be found in the world of literature.
Here, The National's features desk share the books that first sparked their love-affair with reading…
‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ – C S Lewis (1950)
As a child growing up in a difficult home environment, the book that opened my eyes to the power of reading was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia series. Its pages transported me into a new, magical world, filled with adventures and wonder, and was a key to another universe, where I could leave behind the trauma of my home life. At a time when I was too young to understand what was happening around me in the real world, it was a lifeline for me to be given access to that freedom whenever I needed. The images the book conjured were so vivid, I can still summon the feeling of pushing through the fur coats to reach safety on the other side.
Sarah Maisey, deputy Luxury editor
‘The Enchanted Wood’ – Enid Blyton (1939)
Enid Blyton's The Enchanted Wood taught me that books can be magical things. I learnt that – much like the book's starring character, the Faraway Tree – books can transport you to new places and introduce you to people, ideas and fantastical creatures that exist far beyond the realms of even the most vivid of childish imaginations. The book, which is the first in a trilogy, tells the story of Jo, Bessie and Fanny, who move to a new house near a large wood. While exploring, they discover a magical tree, inhabited by a host of colourful characters, including Moon Face, Silky the fairy, the Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot and the Angry Pixie. At the top of the tree is a ladder that leads to a magical land that changes all the time. I still wish I could visit the Land of Birthdays or the Land of Do-As-You-Please.
Selina Denman, head of magazines
‘Ghostly Companions’ - Vivien Alcock (1984)
The book that made me fall in love with reading was a collection of spooky stories called Ghostly Companions by Vivien Alcock. There was a story about a haunted ship's masthead that, despite being sold to a young boy at auction, only wanted to return to the sea; the Greek nymph Echo who fell in love with a boy in a forest, and a vengeful secretary who refused to let being dead stand in the way of her leaving her job, and stayed on to haunt the typewriter, terrorising the new PA. Although they were spooky, the stories weren't terrifyingly scary, and I appreciated the talent it took to write ghost stories for children that didn't scar them for life. I actually tracked a copy of the book down last year, some 30-plus years after I had first read it, to read it again and to pass on to my own children. The stories were as good as I remembered.
Gemma White, lifestyle writer
‘Sunset Song’ - Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1932)
In high school, I read Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song and it became my first literary love. First published in 1932, Sunset Song is part of trilogy called A Scots Quair and tells the story of Chris Guthrie, a young girl growing up in the north east of Scotland at the start of the 20th century. It touches on the subjects of love, loss, politics, feminism, family life and the human spirit, and is written in a blended form of Scots that's also accessible to English speakers. Filled with a healthy smattering of claik (gossip), dool (grief) and douce (joy), it's a tear-jerking classic that's stuck with me to this day – I always make sure I have a copy on my bookshelf.
Hayley Skirka, deputy travel editor
‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ - JK Rowling (1998)
The book that made me fall in love with reading was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling. I picked up the second book after watching the first Harry Potter film. I was so intrigued to learn more about the characters and their stories that I decided to skip waiting for the sequel and just read the book instead. I was so captivated by the world of Harry Potter that, for the next decade, every time a new book came out, I'd buy it the same night and finish it within a couple of days. This stayed with me even when I went away to college and the last book came out when I was 19. I'll always remember the magic I felt while reading the series for the first time.
Evelyn Lau, assistant features editor
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ - Harper Lee (1960)
How do you introduce young minds to the horrors of racism? Simple: write a book on its gut-wrenching unfairness from a child's simple, cuttingly honest point of view. The tree-climbing tomboy in me was thrilled to meet Scout Finch. I could relate instantly to her thorn-tattered clothes, play-acting histrionics and obsession with getting a reaction from mysterious neighbour Boo, all of which echoed the tricks I got up to in my ramshackle playground in 1990s Bombay. As I read on, the illicit nature of the crime being discussed (rape) and its ridiculously unfair ramifications (racism) drove home both important life lessons and a lifelong love for reading.
Panna Munyal, lifestyle editor
‘Blood Brothers’ - Willy Russell (1981)
I was a voracious reader before my school years, thanks to nightly bedtime renditions of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, but this play was the first to teach me that words intended for the stage can be just as powerful on the page. Originally intended as a musical, penned by Liverpudlian playwright Russell and first performed in the 1980s, the tale follows the lives of twin brothers separated at birth. Delving into the complex issues of nature versus nurture, as well as class divides, familial ties, trust and loyalty, Blood Brothers offers a gritty commentary on social inequality, with some lighter moments belying how heartbroken the tragic end will leave you. After years of being forced to read Shakespeare, Byron and Shelley, this accessible, relatable, modern-day tale was the first – and only – book I read in the classroom that moved me to tears.
Emma Day, head of features
‘Flour Babies’ - Anne Fine (1992)
I think like most millennials, the Harry Potter series is when I really fell in love with reading, but my earliest memory of the joy of reading has to be Anne Fine's Flour Babies. I remember it being the first book I borrowed from the school library that wasn't a picture book, I think I was in Year 4 at the time, so around about eight years old. The sense of achievement I had when I finished it spurred me on to keep reading, and is probably what keeps me reading now! The story is about a group of naughty children tasked with caring for a pretend baby for three weeks, which is in fact a bag of flour. A classic school task in TV shows, but one I don't actually ever remember doing in class.
Farah Andrews, assistant features editor
‘The Prophet’ - Kahlil Gibran (1923)
While this wasn't exactly on my official English reading list, it is a book my headmaster gave to me to read when I was at school in Bahrain. One of Lebanese-American poet and writer Kahlil Gibran's best-known works, The Prophet is a compilation of 26 prose poems, told as sermons by a wise man called Al Mustafa. It is a work that Mr Frost hoped would shed some light on life's meaning for a 16-year-old me. In many ways, it did. Al Mustafa is about to go home after 12 years in exile on a fictional island and he is asked to share his views on some of life's biggest conundrums, from love and work to family and death. It may have been originally published in 1923, but his musings are timeless and they've famously influenced the likes of The Beatles, John F Kennedy and Indira Gandhi.
Katy Gillett, deputy features editor
‘The Suitcase Kid’ – Jacqueline Wilson (1992)
I don't remember the exact age I was, but when the time came for me to progress from short children's stories to novels, my mum gifted me the complete collection of Jacqueline Wilson books for Christmas. I remembering excitedly devouring them all, but it was The Suitcase Kid, in particular, that stayed with me. As a child fresh from their parent's divorce, it resonated with me. The book tells the story of Andy, who, along with her stuffed rabbit Radish, moves back and forth between her parents' houses each week after they separate, and has to learn to accept their new partners and families. The story helped me to understand and process the emotions I was feeling at the time about my own changing home set-up, and feel grateful that I didn't have any of the horrible step-siblings that Andy had to contend with. I still have the set of books in my childhood bedroom at my mum's house, and imagine I always will.
Sophie Prideaux, assistant feature editor