As we mark In­ter­na­tional Lit­er­acy Day this 8 September, The Peak’s writ­ers re­veal the au­thors that have made the big­gest im­pres­sions on them.


As we mark In­ter­na­tional Lit­er­acy Day this 8 September, ThePeak’s writ­ers re­veal the au­thors that have made the big­gest im­pres­sions on them.

Mar­garet At­wood

It’s un­canny that a Repub­li­can male should be re­spon­si­ble for the resur­gence of Mar­garet At­wood’s pop­u­lar­ity. With the ad­vent of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the all too timely Hulu TV se­ries based on her most fa­mous novel The Hand­maid’s Tale, At­wood’s Or­wellian and of­ten fright­en­ing pre­dic­tions of the fu­ture and its pa­tri­ar­chal dic­tates seem to have eerily, if less overtly, come top ass. In The Hand­maid’ s Tale, At­wood’s de­pic­tion of a pre­vi­ously lib­eral so­ci­ety turned to­tal­i­tar­ian dystopia ob­sessed with re­pro­duc­tion and warped by re­li­gion, puts a woman’s body squarely un­der the con­trol of a male dom­i­nant world – a sit­u­a­tion mir­rored re­cently by a bill signed by Trump re­strict­ing women’s abor­tion rights. In Oryxand Crake, At­wood had fore­told the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of porn with its ad­dicts seek­ing in­creas­ingly ex­treme, and vi­o­lent, forms of sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Read­ing this, one might be apt to dis­miss At­wood’s nov­els for their shock value but what stands out equally in her writ­ing is the in­cred­i­ble em­pa­thy for her char­ac­ters – women trapped in their predica­ments but try­ing to buck the sys­tem re­gard­less. It’s very hard not to be af­fected by an At­wood novel and even harder not to re­late, as I dis­cov­ered through al­most ev­ery milestone I’ve chalked. Nom­i­nated for the Booker Prize five times and one of the few women to have been awarded the Arthur C Clarke Award for sci­ence fic­tion, At­wood has al­ways been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for women’s rights and the en­vi­ron­ment, with more than 40 books to her name. Her tire­less drive has also seen the 77-year-old in­vent the Long­pen, a re­mote writ­ing ser­vice that al­lows users to write in ink via tablet and the In­ter­net. Her mag­is­te­rial tal­ent is of­ten im­i­tated but rarely matched. Nev­er­the­less, At­wood­ian touches have shown up in Young Adult se­ries such as The Hunger Games and Di­ver­gent, sound­ing a ral­ly­ing cry to younger gen­er­a­tions of women to re­main in­de­pen­dent in thought and spirit. – Mindy Teh

Gabriel Gar­cia Márquez

It’s been half a cen­tury since the pub­li­ca­tion of 100 Years of Soli­tude, the book that helped es­tab­lish Gabriel Gar­cia Márquez as an icon of mag­i­cal re­al­ism. The story of the town of Ma­condo and the Buen­dia fam­ily has loomed large since, with its nar­ra­tives of time and the in­ex­orable ties of the past cast­ing an un­for­get­table spell on all who’ve read it. My first brush with Gra­cia Márquez, how­ever, was a later book, Love in the Time of Cholera, first pub­lished in 1985. From the on­set, I was drawn to the lan­guid­ity of the prose, and the slow un­fold­ing of events and char­ac­ters. Lush and fe­cund with em­bel­lished side­steps and de­tours, this story of en­dur­ing love, hu­man foibles and the past is told with sump­tu­ous style and a fine line be­tween fact and the fan­tas­tic. For me, how­ever, the high point of Gar­cia Márquez is Living to Tell the

Tale (2002), the first of a pro­jected three-book au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that was, alas, un­com­pleted at the time of his death in 2014. One uses the word ‘au­to­bi­og­ra­phy’ guard­edly, though, as the very epi­graph warns: ‘Life is not what one lived, but what one re­mem­bers and how one re­mem­bers it in or­der to re­count it.’ Yet, here is the sum of it all: lyri­cal in the quin­tes­sen­tial Gar­cia Márquez way, mag­i­cal in the way it com­poses the world, os­ten­ta­tious, ex­ten­sive and ex­pan­sive, and larger than life. Much in Living to Tell the Tale are echoed in 100 Years of Soli­tude, fur­ther blur­ring the line be­tween truth and fic­tion. Life, Gar­cia Márquez seems to be say­ing, isn’t al­ways straight­for­ward, and when it’s as glo­ri­ously chron­i­cled as this, there’s re­ally no need to fret the dif­fer­ence. – Christy Yoong

Haruki Mu­rakami

I was first in­tro­duced to Haruki Mu­rakami through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a tale of a sim­ple, un­em­ployed man, in­ter­spersed with a rec­ol­lec­tion of the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of Manchukuo, and, in the mid­dle of it all, a cat named Noboru Wataya. Mu­rakami is a mas­ter of piquing cu­rios­ity through his de­scrip­tion of the some­times mun­dane, some­times puz­zling ac­tions of his char­ac­ters and the en­vi­ron­ment that they are in. These re­sults in an in­abil­ity to put the book down once you’ve started it. Af­ter The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was hooked: Kafka on the Shore, Af­ter Dark, 1Q84, Nor­we­gian Wood and Color less Tsu ku ru Ta za ki and His Years of Pil­grim­age. The more I read of Mu­rakami, the more I fell in love with the way he blends re­al­ity and fic­tion. It’s al­most like read­ing a dream, where some­thing to­tally run-of-the-mill could sub­tly trans­form into some­thing strange and you prob­a­bly wouldn’t even no­tice it hap­pen un­til you con­sciously think about it after­wards. Thir­teen of his nov­els have been trans­lated and four col­lec­tions of his var­i­ous short sto­ries have been pub­lished. And through­out most of them, the au­thor’s love for jazz shines through. The ref­er­ences in his work aren’t some­thing ca­su­ally picked out of a playlist and in­serted crassly, but rather cu­rated and used pur­pose­fully to add an ex­tra layer of depth to his words. I wouldn’t ex­pect any­thing less from a man who post­poned his stud­ies to open up his own jazz bar but that is a story for an­other time. – Daniel Goh

Wil­liam Shake­speare

Has there been a more cel­e­brated writer in the English lan­guage than Wil­liam Shake­speare? Lauded, in­deed, for en­rich­ing the English lan­guage it­self, Shake­speare has not just en­dured, four cen­turies af­ter his death, but thrives even now. His legacy – 154 son­nets, two nar­ra­tive po­ems and, above all, 38 plays – has been trans­lated into ev­ery ma­jor lan­guage and sold an es­ti­mated four bil­lion copies around the world, mak­ing him the best­selling fic­tion au­thor of all time. His sound­bites, to use the mod­ern par­lance, per­me­ate the English lan­guage we use ev­ery day. Yet, the whole here is, def­i­nitely, greater than the sum of its parts. On the page, Shake­speare may come across as flat (as many a stu­dent of English lit­er­a­ture will at­test), yet, on the boards, he sparkles and flashes, full of wit, drama and ex­quis­ite in­sight. It is lit­tle sur­prise that he is the most reg­u­larly per­formed play­wright, one that con­sis­tently draws the widest and most di­verse crowds. It is not just the lan­guage that draws us, although there is much to take plea­sure in: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our lit­tle life is rounded with a sleep’ ( The Tem­pest); ‘Sus­pi­cion al­ways haunts the guilty mind’ ( Henry VI, Part III); ‘Rep­u­ta­tion is an idle and most false im­po­si­tion; oft got with­out merit, and lost with­out de­serv­ing’ ( Othello); ‘But O, how bit­ter a thing it is to look into hap­pi­ness through an­other man's eyes’ ( A sYou Like It); ‘If love be blind, it best agrees with night’ ( Romeo and Juliet). Yet Shake­speare’s great­est at­trac­tion is how we see our­selves in his words – love, envy, lust, fear, greed and ev­ery other form of emo­tion you can name are cap­tured in his lines and how elo­quently too. By im­mor­tal­is­ing hu­man­ity, he in­ad­ver­tently en­sured his eter­nal­ity, and we are the richer for it. Lit­tle won­der, then, that his fel­low play­wright Ben Jon­son would say: ‘He was not of an age but for all time!’ – Christy Yoong

Vladimir Nabokov

Though his first lit­er­ary works were in Rus­sian, it was his English nov­els that gar­nered Vladimir Nabokov his fame. Known for his com­plex plots, in­tel­li­gent play on words, bold metaphors and his abil­ity to bran­dish a style of prose hold­ing both par­ody and in­tense lyri­cism, Nabokov has writ­ten renowned works such as Pale

Fire and Speak, Memory. How­ever, his main claim to fame came from the no­to­ri­ety-rid­den Lolita, a story star­ring a mid­dle-aged lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor who be­comes in­fat­u­ated with a 12-year-old girl. It was first pub­lished in Paris in 1955 by Olympia Press, be­fore be­ing trans­lated into Rus­sian by Nabokov and pub­lished in New York in 1967. The novel quickly gained the sta­tus of be­ing a ‘clas­sic’ and, to this day, is still re­garded as one of the most con­tro­ver­sial and prime achieve­ments of 20th cen­tury lit­er­a­ture. – Joanna Lee

Ge­orge Or­well

Few writ­ers in the English-speak­ing world have writ­ten more pen­e­trat­ingly than Bri­tish writer Ge­orge Or­well, whose thought­pro­vok­ing works are marked by lu­cid prose and aware­ness of the un­fair prac­tices within a so­ci­ety that pro­motes in­equal­ity and hin­der so­cial ad­vance­ment. Born Eric Arthur Blair, he adapted his nomde­plume shortly be­fore the de­but of his first book Down

and Out in Paris and Lon­don' His big break was in 1945, fol­low­ing the re­lease of An­i­mal Farm, a con­tro­ver­sial al­le­gor­i­cal novella in­spired by the rise and fall of the Soviet Union that ex­plores how ab­so­lute power leads to cor­rup­tion. Shortly be­fore the writer's un­timely death in 1950, he re­vealed his mag­num opus, Nine­teen

Eighty-Four, a chilling prophecy of sorts that imag­ines what life in a dystopian fu­ture is like, when all crit­i­cal thought is sup­pressed un­der a to­tal­i­tar­ian regime. – Maya Michael

Roald Dahl

No other chil­dren’s writer has man­aged to cap­ture the wild and glee­fully bizarre imag­i­na­tions of chil­dren around the world quite like Roald Dahl. Con­sid­ered one of the great­est chil­dren’s writ­ers, his books have been pub­lished in al­most 60 lan­guages and many have been adapted for the sil­ver screen. Who hasn’t been en­thralled by James and the Gi­ant Peach, Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory, Matilda, The Witches, Fan­tas­tic MrFox and The BFG? Though his tales may be of candy-filled won­der­lands, grue­some gi­ants and fear­some witches typ­i­cal of any chil­dren’s book, his sto­ries are far from the norm. In an al­most Shake­spearean man­ner, Dahl plays with lan­guage and in­vents new words that add a won­der­fully wacky spirit to his sto­ries. As the man sagely once said: “A lit­tle non­sense now and then, is cher­ished by the wis­est men.” – Kirat Kaur

Neil eil de Grasse Tyson

Even though he is pri­mar­ily known as an as­tro­physi­cist and not as an au­thor, there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that Neil de Grasse Tyson has in­deed cre­ated an­other uni­verse with his lit­er­ary works. One of the ‘stars’ of sci­ence – a pan­theon that in­cludes Bill Nye and Stephen Hawk­ing – his lat­est pub­li­ca­tion, Astro­physics for Peo­ple in a Hurry, is the per­fect on-the-go read for those living the mod­ern and fast-paced city life­style, but still wish to indulge in the ba­sic ques­tions of what lies be­yond and the Great Un­known. It con­tains a com­pressed col­lec­tion of Tyson’s es­says that ap­peared in Nat­u­ral His­tory mag­a­zine at var­i­ous points from the years 1997 to 2007, writ­ten in con­sum­able chap­ters that bring the uni­verse to the tips of our fin­gers in a way that’s clear, witty and un­com­pli­cated. – Joanna Lee

CS Lewis ewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe–who knew that three seem­ingly un­re­lated things will spawn a world of fan­tasy etched for­ever in the hearts and minds of bib­lio­philes around the globe? Fa­mously known for his marvel­lous tales of ad­ven­ture and fan­tasy in the The Chron­i­cles of N arni a se­ries, CS Lewis was a mas­ter of lit­er­a­ture, a Fel­low and Tu­tor in English Lit­er­a­ture at Ox­ford Univer­sity and Chair of Me­dieval and Re­nais­sance Lit­er­a­ture at Cam­bridge Univer­sity. Per­haps it will come to no sur­prise that he was fast friends with fel­low fan­tasy nov­el­ist JRR Tolkien when the two served on the English fac­ulty of Ox­ford Univer­sity and were fel­low mem­bers of the Ox­ford lit­er­ary group known as the In­klings. While he maybe fa­mous ly known for The Chron­i­cles of Na rn ia, Lewis wrote over 30 books of fic­tion and non-fic­tion Chris­tian apolo­get­ics that ex­plored Chris­tian themes such as sin, hu­man­ity's fall from grace and redemp­tion. By clev­erly weav­ing these themes to­gether with mythol­ogy, he cre­ated a legacy that has in­spired many to go dig­ging through their clos­ets and wardrobes look­ing for a mag­i­cal land. – Kirat Kaur

Frank McCourt

From poverty-stricken em­i­grant to lit­er­ary star, the life of this Ir­ish-Amer­i­can au­thor per­fectly ex­em­pli­fies the Amer­i­can dream. Born in Brook­lyn to Ir­ish im­mi­grants, his fam­ily re­turned to Ire­land dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion and the au­thor would spend his for­ma­tive years strug­gling to sur­vive while grow­ing up in the de­press­ing slums of Lim­er­ick, be­fore fi­nally re­turn­ing to the land of the free where Frank McCourt even­tu­ally be­came an English teacher for three decades. Af­ter re­tir­ing at the age of 60, McCourt de­cided he was fi­nally ready to re­veal to the world the har­row­ing de­tails of his des­ti­tute child­hood, which was penned in his de­but, An­gela’s Ashes. Writ­ten with as­tound­ing hu­mour and com­pas­sion, this tragi­comic memoir not only transformed McCourt into a mil­lion­aire but also earned him mul­ti­ple awards, in­clud­ing a Pulitzer Prize. Be­tween 1998 and 2005, McCourt re­leased more books, in­clud­ing ’Tis, a fol­low-up to his crit­i­cally ac­claimed memoir, be­fore pass­ing away in New York in 2009 at age 78. – Maya Michael

Jean Rhys

The memory ory of Jean Rhys must be kept alive. Her mod­ern­moder prose and in­ci­sive view of the demi­monde world around her – par­tic­u­larly in its treat­ment of women and race – saw her writ­ing ahead of her time. Rhys was as com­plex as all of her pro­tag­o­nists. Born to a Welsh fa­ther and a white Cre­ole mother, Rhys faced dis­crim­i­na­tion as an out­sider when she fi­nally ar­rived in Black­pool, Eng­land, from Do­minica. Her ex­otic beauty at­tracted men in droves, all of whom ex­ploited and were, in time and turn, equally ex­ploited by her. She had worked a suc­ces­sion of demi­mondaine jobs – cho­rus girl, artist’s model – and came to see sex as a com­mod­ity and an in­evitable ex­change; she had been a pros­ti­tute in trou­bled times, later evolv­ing into a cour­te­san. Rhys found a men­tor and lover in Ford Ma­dox Ford, pick­ing up on the eco­nom­i­cal Amer­i­can style that was pop­u­lar at the time. Yet, her nov­els were never cel­e­brated un­til she had reached a late age, pos­si­bly be­cause her themes were so mod­ern, it had yet to be ac­cepted by the gen­eral pub­lic then. By the time her cel­e­brated novel Wide Sar­gas­soSea was pub­lished in 1966, she was long for­got­ten, with many think­ing she had died years be­fore.

Wide Sar­gas­soSea caused a sen­sa­tion and made a celebrity of Rhys, who had fa­mously said it had all come too late. Rhys had prac­ti­cally in­vented what is now com­monly known as al­ter­na­tive fic­tion – that par­tic­u­lar genre that tells a well-known tale from the point of view of a mi­nor char­ac­ter. In the case of Wide Sar­gasso

Sea, Rhys ex­plored the idea of race, sex­ual ma­nip­u­la­tion, ex­ploita­tion, and even hu­man traf­fick­ing and mail or­der brides through the eyes of the mad­woman in the at­tic who was but a ghostly pres­ence in Jane Eyre. Rhys has also un­wit­tingly given rise to the mod­ern fe­male writer, she who now has the li­cense to write frankly about her sex­u­al­ity, race, gen­der and so­cial con­text. I’d dis­cov­ered Rhys as a stu­dent study­ing and living in Tot­ten­ham, a dis­trict that ex­posed the rougher, seed­ier side of Lon­don to me. Read­ing Rhys helped put a salve over my sur­round­ings and sta­tus as Other in a for­eign land. It is a shame that to­day, Rhys is known for just this one novel when oth­ers such as Good Morn­ing,

Mid­night, Voy­age in the Dark and her short story col­lec­tions are well worth ap­pre­ci­at­ing. She was for­got­ten once be­fore. Let’s not for­get her legacy ever again. – Mindy Teh

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those writ­ers who in­voke a child-like sense of ad­ven­ture no mat­ter how old your body and mind says you are. Not sur­pris­ing com­ing from a writer who cites the likes of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Lewis Car­roll, Mary Shel­ley and Rud­yard Ki­pling as his influences. But what Gaiman does stun­ningly well is to bring fan­tasy into the ev­ery­day like the Lon­don Be­low from

Nev­er­where, the Amer­ica of Amer­i­canGods and the lit­tle vil­lage from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is, for me, what brings a sense of re­al­ism into Gaiman’s sto­ries. It’s prob­a­bly why ev­ery time I read those books, I think “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and it is also prob­a­bly why Amer­i­can Gods, which was writ­ten in 2001 and just re­cently adapted into a TV se­ries on Net­flix, is con­sid­ered po­lit­i­cally rel­e­vant in 2017. Un­like most who fell in love with Gaiman’s work, I didn’t start with The Sand­man comics (and still haven’t read them to date – it’s a trav­esty, I know) but rather I picked up a copy of Nev­er­where; from there, I just con­tin­ued read­ing. Although his writ­ing style is de­cep­tively sim­ple, his im­mense sto­ry­telling ca­pa­bil­ity is what shines through on each page. There is a video some­where out there where Gaiman tells a story for this project called The Moth; in it, he rec­ol­lects the time when his par­ents for­got to pick him up from a train sta­tion. Again, sim­ple lan­guage but, by the end of the story, he had the crowd in the palm of his hands. – Daniel Goh

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