Marmalade, mockingbirds and New York drag queens
Pictured are just a few of the books that have shaped who I am. Many of them aren’t the copies I originally devoured: those were read quite literally to pieces or – reluctantly – handed back to libraries. There’s a high proportion of children’s books here. These books moulded my tastes (I really did start eating marmalade because of A Bear Called Paddington). They also opened my eyes to types of social injustice that I just didn’t encounter first-hand in my privileged, provincial childhood. They taught me about the banality of evil, and how easily it can gain a foothold (even in Narnia); and about the importance of empathy, of walking around in another person’s shoes before you judge them (to paraphrase Atticus Finch).
One text which isn’t pictured here is Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. I’d never had much cause to think about gay rights: I was brought up in a pretty socially conservative household, and I didn’t even know what I was going to see that evening (there were some tickets going spare on a school drama trip, so I tagged along). The fact that reviews of the play’s 2012 revival can say that it has ‘the faint whiff of a period piece’ or comment that ‘in its advocacy of gay family life, Fierstein’s trilogy now seems to be pushing at an open door’, is a measure how far social attitudes in the UK have shifted. But in the 1980s, it was revolutionary. That accidental night at the theatre changed me, a first inoculation against prejudice.