Mohsin Hamid on James Baldwin, ‘Beloved’ and the book that shaped his world view

Welcome to Durability, ELLE.com’s book column, where authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re looking for a book that will comfort you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the authors in our series who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will become one of yours too.

Mohsin Hamid says his fifth novel, The last white man (Riverhead), about a man who wakes up one morning with darker skin, has been pregnant since 9/11, when he – born in Pakistan and until then mainly educated in the US and employed in the UK – began to be treated with suspicion and fear.

Now based in Lahore, the internationally bestselling author is a two-time Booker Prize finalist for 2007’s The Reluctant Fundamentalistwhose film adaptation was directed by Mira Nair and featured Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed, and 2017’s Exit west, which is being adapted by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions and again starring Ahmed for Netflix. (Those two discussed migration at the London Literature Festival). Originally called All migrants through time, Exit westabout a couple transported around the world by walking through a black door, was also a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, given for incoming freshmen at UC Berkeley as summer reading and selected by the Chicago Public Library for One Book, One Chicago.

After Princeton – where he was a student of Toni Morrison, who criticized what was to become his first novel, moth smoke—and Harvard Law, Hamid worked as a corporate attorney, management consultant and chief storyteller at a creative consulting firm. He reads his work high as part of his editing process, walks 90 minutes a day, is married to a restaurateur and likes the Greek islands Naxos and Santorinithe art of Shahzia Sikanderand atlas as a child. Drop into new worlds with his recs below.

The book there:

… helped me through a loss:

I left California for Pakistan at the age of nine and never lived there again, and that wasn’t until I read Joan Didion’s Closes in on Bethlehem 30 years later that I really realized how much I still missed the place and how much of me was still there.

… kept me up way too late:

James Baldwin’s Another countrywhich begins with probably the best sentence-for-sentence writing I’ve ever read and made me think, damn, it’s possible to do this.

…I recommend again and again:

Pereira maintains by Antonio Tabucchi, an exquisite little masterpiece of a novel that does so much and that far too many people haven’t read but should.

…shaped my worldview:

When I was in high school in Lahore and going to college in America, I studied No longer at rest by Chinua Achebe, the story of a young Nigerian man educated in England who returns to Nigeria, and I have thought about it over and over ever since.

…I want to give a new candidate:

At that age you are ready to have your mind blown and Fiction by Jorge Luis Borges will do it.

… made me laugh out loud:

Nabokov is very, very funny, and to me Pale fire is his funniest.

…broke my heart:

Charlotte’s Web by EB White. What can I say? If you read it as a kid and it didn’t crack you up, you’re a lot tougher than I am.

…describes a place I would like to visit:

Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Manwhich would take me to my grandparents’ Lahore before it changed irrevocably.

…should be on every college’s curriculum:

The Epic of Gilgamesh. If you are going to read literature, it makes sense to start from the beginning.

…I consider literary comfort food:

Hemingway’s A moving partybecause it is.

… I would have blurted out if asked:

Enheduanna’s hymns because she was the first named author in human history over 4,000 years ago, and so when I called her groundbreaking, no one would have argued with me.

…sealed a friendship:

Haruki Murakami Norwegian Woodwhich I gave to my wife on our second date, expecting that we would not see each other again.

…I would like to have it signed by the author:

Belovedby Toni Morrison because when I was a student she caught me with a copy of Jazzwhich I ate and she signed but said, “Read Belovedit’s good,” and I did, and you don’t need me to tell you this, but: it really, really was.

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