The books that shaped me: Naomi Klein

womens prize for fiction and non fiction 2024
Naomi Klein's best booksMatt Crossick/PA Media Assignments

Welcome to The Books That Shaped Me - a Good Housekeeping series in which authors talk us through the reads that stand out for them. This week, we're hearing from Naomi Klein, who has just been named as the winner of the inaugral Women's Prize for Non Fiction 2024 for her book Doppleganger.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed books to her name, including No Logo and The Shock Doctrine. She's written for many publications internationally, including The Guardian, Rolling Stone magazine, Harper's, The New York Times and The New Statesman.

What impact have books had on you?

I can’t separate reading from wanting to write. I got my first diary when I was nine. I was a bit journaler when I was kid; just boxes and boxes of journals. It says on the first page of the first one that it was inspired by Anne Frank’s diary. I’ve kept writing ever since.

Which childhood book has stayed with you?

It would The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. It opened up a whole period for me of wanting to research the Holocaust and particularly children in the Holocaust. It’s a very common experience I think, because of the simplicity of the book. A lot of it is really just gossip – girls at school, crushes. It was so relatable. I re-read it recently with my son and I realised that she’s an even better writer than I remembered.

From my teen years, it would be The House Of The Spirits by Isabel Allende. I had not read magical realism before so it opened up a whole journey for me. I also learned about Allende's history and Chile and the coup involving her father. That ended up being a big part of my book The Shock Doctrine.

What is your favourite book of all time?

The most important book to me is Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It was so ahead of its time in the way it combines science writing, very detailed nature writing, with speculative fiction. It’s a story of the future. You can tell when you read her letters what an extraordinary poet she is.

She also wrote a very sweet book called The Sense Of Wonder. I think she wrote it for a nephew or niece. It’s about exposing children to the wonders of nature and is really about the art of noticing. It has this wonderful ability to see the world through a child’s eyes. That’s her great skill as a science writer, her own sense of wonder, which she never lost.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

My friend Greg Grandin, who is a historian, wrote an absolutely brilliant book that won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago called The End Of The Myth. It's about the myth of the frontier in American history and how it relates to genociode of indigenous people, military expansion and to Trump. These are all themes I am obsessed with so when I read Greg’s book I thought, damn, I wish I’d written this! But only Greg could have written it.

Which book do you wish everyone would read?

I wish people would read a small book by a Caribbean writer named Aime Cesaire called Discourse On Colonialism which was written not long after the Second World War. It’s about colonialiam and in part it explores how European colonialism created the context for European fascism in the 30s and 40s.

Which book got you through a hard time?

When I was writing Doppleganger, it was hugely helpful for me to read Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock. It really helped me understand the world of doubles; it made so many things click into place. It’s an incredibly weird and fun and brilliant book.

Which book lifts your spirits?

I adore Barbara Kingsolver and I adored Demon Copperhead. I’ve never seen any writer write with such compassion about addiction. Her gifts of empathy are such a beacon for our times. One thing I love about the book is that it gets into why one would want to escape one’s life and one’s body. There’s so much blame in the discussion around addiction. Kingsolver looks beyond the chemistry. To me it’s related to what I write about around why one would want to take flight into fantasy around conspiracy theories. There’s a lot to want to escape.

Doppleganger by Naomi Klein is out now

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