Sara Nisha Adams on writing 'The Reading List'

05 September 2021 - 00:00 By Sara Nisha Adams

The idea for The Reading List came to me almost fully formed. I remember calling my father one lunch time to tell him about it, to cement it in my mind, but also to commit to it, to make sure that I wrote it ... somehow.

The book celebrates the importance of stories and libraries, both of which have brought me comfort and joy. But the beginning of this story was inspired by my maternal grandfather, my Dada.

My mother's family predominantly speak Gujarati at home, a language I partly understand but can't speak. So whenever I visited my grandparents' home in Wembley, London, as a child, I would take a book with me and curl up with it when I was too shy to join in.

Before I went home for the day, Dada would always ask me "Nisha, what are you reading?" He would read the blurb of the book clutched in my hands, and he would ask me about it. Slowly, the shy child I was would talk, about stories and characters as if they were real. I wondered, what if I hadn't had that relationship with my Dada? What if he hadn't noticed that books were the way into my world?

That's where Mukesh from The Reading List began. His late wife, Naina, and their granddaughter, Priya, had formed a close bond through reading together - and now Mukesh, lonely, is desperate to find a way to connect with his granddaughter. He's not a reader but he takes himself to the library, for Naina and for Priya, and there he discovers books - and friendship too.

This book is full of pieces of me and the people I love, in all the characters, places and scenes. Because the characters were so close to me, it was sometimes a struggle to make sure everything was as clear on paper as it was in my head. The celebration of inter-generational friendships in the story is closely linked to my relationship with all my grandparents, who I love dearly, and who have taught me so much in all the big and small ways that grandparents do.

In the run-up to publication, I lost both my grandmothers. Ba and Granny had been cheering me on from the beginning - this story wouldn't exist without them, or my late grandfathers. Yet they'll never hold a copy of the book; they'll never see all they inspired me to do. It is strange, and heartbreaking, to be confronted by fresh grief while writing a book that is so much about grief, but also about hope. I knew I needed to search for some hope.

I hope that this is a story my grandparents would be proud of. And I hope readers find comfort here too, that it will help us feel a little less alone. And maybe, it might just inspire someone to write a reading list of their own.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams is published by HarperCollins, R330