Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle (Penguin, $15). From the first page, Doyle’s Booker Prize–winning 1993 novel took me back to growing up in a small town in Ireland in the 1960s. Doyle’s writing captures the world of kids waiting for something—anything—to happen.
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence (Penguin, $12). As a teenager, I was riveted by the emotional drama of the women in Lawrence’s life. His ability to depict family life, love, and tension—while at the same time evoking a wondrous sense of place—was a revelation that still leaves me in awe.
The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim (Norton, $22). Reading Shlaim was my first encounter with Israel’s “new historians.” He and writers like him opened my eyes to a much bigger, more challenging story about the Middle East. In this 2001 work, Shlaim used recently declassified Israeli documents to reveal a history of Israel and Palestine that is more about truth than about nurturing myth.
Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile (Grove, $15). A breathtaking account of how a U.S. congressman singlehandedly hijacked the CIA budget for the Afghan mujahedin war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Crile makes a thriller out of what could have been a mind-numbing examination of Wilson’s manipulation of the appropriations process.
The Great War by Les Carlyon (Pan Macmillan Australia). Carlyon makes the horror of war compelling reading. By telling the story of Australian forces in the First World War through soldiers’ diaries and letters, he reminded me that, in the research phase, it’s always worth going the extra mile to get an account from those who were actually there.
An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey (Vintage, $16). When seized by the urge to cook curry, I let Jaffrey hold my hand. The pages of my 1970s edition are dog-eared and stained with ingredients from the kitchens of my life.