The Guardian

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Nigerian author on Enid Blyton, Chinua Achebe and the pleasures of reading magazines

My earliest reading memory

I was about eight, reading a Famous Five book by Enid Blyton, in the light-filled room downstairs in our house on the campus of the University of Nigeria. I learned to read earlier, but this is the earliest of my abiding memories of reading: the feeling of singular pleasure, page after page, eager to solve the mystery in the dungeon but unwilling for the story to end.

My favourite book growing up

I fell deeply in love with The Dark Child by Camara Laye, which probably sparked my interest in a certain kind of nostalgia in fiction. I also loved the Pacesetters , a series of YA books by different African writers, because reading them made me begin to have a (positive) pan-African sensibility.

The book that changed me as a teenager

My best friend’s brother gave me a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I had never had such a visceral reaction to a book. I will never forget the feeling, a kind of bodily frisson, when I read the passage about the character who ascends into heaven. It taught me the exquisite power of stories, their ability to engage your imagination and permanently stamp things on your mind.

The writer who changed my mind

I read White Rage by Carol Anderson about six years ago. Before then I had always believed in the idea of reparations for African Americans, but in a vague, not practical way. This beautifully written history made me think differently.

The book I reread

Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God , because it is a superb example of what literature can, or even should, do: inform and delight.

The book I could never read again

I adored the crime fiction novels by James Hadley Chase when I was younger. I tried to reread them some years ago and just couldn’t get past the first page.

The book I discovered later in life

The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman by Andrzej Szczypiorski. This wide-ranging, grownup novel about Poland during the second world war had an intense effect on me, perhaps because I was at the time researching the Nigerian-Biafran war, a subject close to my heart as both my grandfathers died in that war. The book I am currently reading

I read more than one book at a time, and I don’t finish everything I start. But I’m enjoying Payback by Mary Gordon and The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively, and will finish both because they are so well done, psychologically acute and wise. I have just started The Jungle by a brilliant Nigerian investigative journalist, David Hundeyin.

And, as necessary reminders of the beauty in language, I am dipping in and out of poetry collections by Rita Dove, Jack Gilbert and Leanne O’Sulllivan.

My comfort read

I relax by catching up on my backlog of two magazines: the Atlantic and the New Yorker , knowing that with each one I open, there is the possibility of something gem-like within. Mama’s Sleeping Scarf by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writing as Nwa Grace-James, is published by HarperCollins.