Michael Rosen: ‘My comfort read? Great Expectations’ | Books

My first reading memory
The first pages of any book I remember reading, at Pinner Wood Elementary, were from The Beacon Readers: Stories of Farmer Giles, Rover Dog, Old Loop Shepherd, and Mrs. Cady the Cow. I was very fond of Mrs. Cady.

My favorite book is growing up
The Astonishing Pranks of Master Till Ullenspiegel, by L. Gombrich, tell German folktales of a trick-or-treat peasant outrunning townspeople, shopkeepers, university professors, and aristocrats. I wanted to be up.

The book that changed me when I was a teenager
My parents’ bookshelves were full of books from their life in the Communist Party. Al Morton’s book On the History of the People of England was the first thing my teenage found readable and suggested that I lived two versions of history: one I was studying at school, and another, now known as the “bottom-up” version.

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The writer who changed my mind
At university, in the mid-1960s, I met Jamaican politician Trevor Monroe – who was a graduate at the time. He told me to read Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams. He outlined the inextricable relationship between Britain and the Empire and how the country’s wealth was enhanced by the transatlantic slave trade and the plantations of Caribbean lands.

The book that made me want to be a writer
At about the age of sixteen, I became obsessed with James Joyce’s painting of the artist as a young man. I was immersed in the feeling of someone trying to get out of an institution but then I became interested in Joyce’s empirical way of writing.

The book I reread
I love re-reading Shakespeare’s plays and constantly find the parts I missed or didn’t understand before. King Lear, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV Part One, Macbeth: I am amazed by their scope, strength, intellect, and sophistication.

The The author is back
I read all of Thomas Hardy’s poems and novels except for Tess of Durberville and the mysterious Jude. I came to these two later in life. I loved that they were two novels of ideas dealing with class, education (or lack), work and forms of oppression in the nineteenth century.

The book I could not read again
I have fond memories of immersing myself in the novels of D. H. Lawrence, and found his book of select poems very liberating at the time. I may resist reading it now because I’m afraid I’ll end up regretting that I’m no longer that young reader!

The book I discovered later in life
About 30 years ago, I decided to take an evening French class. Teacher Françoise made us read a book I had never heard of, Le Diable au Corps (The Devil in the Flesh) by Raymond Radige. It tells the story of an affair between a 16-year-old boy and a married young woman who fights her husband at the front in World War I.

The book I’m reading right now
Debra Barnes Little Survivors. It is a book that overlaps with the experience of my father’s uncle and aunt, who were Polish Jews, naturalized in French, delivered by Vichy and deported to Auschwitz. In this story, based on the true story of what happened to Barnes’ mother, five children lose their parents and do what they have to do to stay alive.

Read my comfort
The early chapters of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations: I remember my father reading it to us in a tent in Yorkshire when I was about 13.

Sticky McStickstick by Michael Rosen, drawn by Tony Ross, is published by Walker. To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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