Sathnam Sanghera graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge with a first class degree in English Language and Literature in 1998. Before becoming a writer he (among other things) worked at a burger chain, a hospital laundry, a market research firm, a sewing factory and a literacy project in New York.
Sathnam’s first book, The Boy With The Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton, was shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Biography Award, the 2009 PEN/Ackerley Prize and named 2009 Mind Book of the Year. It was adapted for BBC2 by Kudos/Parti Productions and aired to high ratings and critical acclaim in November 2017, being described by The Radio Times as a “smash hit”.
His novel, Marriage Material, has been shortlisted for a 2014 South Bank Sky Arts Award and a 2013 Costa Book Award, been longlisted for the 2014 Desmond Elliot Prize, picked by The Sunday Times, The Observer and Metro as one of the novels of 2013, cited as one of the Guardian Readers’ Books of the Year in 2014, and is being developed as a multi-part TV drama by Kudos.
He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters for services to journalism by The University of Wolverhampton in September 2009 and a President’s Medal by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2010.
What a Carve Up
Every time I think of my favourite books, I come up with a different list of titles. Maybe what you want from a book changes with age: now I read for clarity and insight in the way I used to read for language and laughs. Maybe the comic novels I tended to go for don’t survive re-reading because you can see the jokes and plotlines coming. Or maybe I’m just not a re-reader like Martin Amis who said that he has “read at least half a dozen Nabokov novels at least half a dozen times”. Ironically, the thing that does survive re-reading is poetry and Shakespeare, which feels the most difficult first time round. Still, I'd have to include a Jonathan Coe book in any list I compiled. Critics have attacked this novel for being too angry about Thatcherism and its effects, but it's an anger that seems to have become renewed for many with Brexit.
Decline and Fall
I think I began reading Waugh as a teenager simply because I wanted to be able to say I'd read everything written by at least one major english novelist, and he wrote a relatively small number of books. As it happens, I still haven't read the Sword of Honour trilogy, but this is THE definitive English comic novel. I found it amusing to discover recently that Waugh included this sentence in the Author’s Note to the first edition of Decline And Fall: "Please bear in mind throughout that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY."
The Old Wives Tale
Published in 1908, and about the lives of two sisters growing up in a drapery shop in the Potteries, this book provided part of the inspiration for my last novel. I loved it in large part because of the universality of Bennett’s themes: in particular, the generation gap; the clash between the provincial and the metropolitan and the threat small communities face from Industrialisation. But I was struck even more by the parallels between the world he describes and my own background as the child of Punjabi immigrants to the West Midlands. Life in the Potteries in Victorian times was hard and dangerous: just as life was for immigrants arriving to toil in Black Country factories in the 1950s and 1960s. Bennett’s characters were obsessed with the acquisition of money and social status, in the same way that Punjabi Sikh culture fetishizes wealth over education. Then there is the novel’s presiding concern with marriage. Surreally, “Baines”, with the vowel dropped, is even a common Sikh surname. I would love it if my homage inspired people to give Bennett a chance in the 21st Century.
The French Lieutenants Woman
A book I enjoyed as a teenager, and a book I re-read as an adult and enjoyed in a completely different way. Perfectly executed. Haven't managed to get into anything else by Fowles though. What on earth was The Magus about? Lord.
This is How You Lose Her
I’ve been obsessed with Junot Diaz ever since I picked up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Think he is the most original voice to have appeared in last decade. As it happens, I was initially wary of this collection of short stories just because it was so slim. It seemed cheeky to charge so much for so few words. But it totally blew my mind. Funny and moving and
incredibly modern – the last story was so good that, as soon as I finished, I read it again... like re-listening to a great pop song.