Shelf Life: Nicola Sturgeon on the books that changed her

Talking to us in February the First Minister of Scotland shared the reads that have shaped her life and politics.

Stuart Simpson/Penguin

My Mum likes to tell a story about how, on my fifth birthday, I had all my friends over for a party and in the middle of it, I hid under the table with a book and refused to come out. When I was a child, I did that a lot: hide myself away to read.

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl was one of the first books I discovered as I was coming out of my Enid Blyton phase, and a new world of reading was opening up. I loved the sense of adventure, and cheering Danny and his dad on. It’s also the story of ordinary people fighting against the rich and powerful, so I guess there was, even back in Primary School, something about it that appealed to my sense of social justice.

Did I have an inkling of myself as a potential leader back then? Not at all. But I do remember having a sense of not wanting to follow an obvious or a normal path. Reading showed me there was a massive world of different possibilities and experiences out there. 

'I was bit of a pretentious teenager'

By the time I got to university I was a bit of a pretentious teenager, obsessed with reading the classics in the hope it would impress people. I think the reason Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte stayed with me so strongly was that it was not the novel I was expecting. It was a love story, but also much, much more than that: an almost spiritual journey about a young woman trying to work out who she was and find her place in the world. I was just starting to get involved in politics, which was taking me out of my very bookish, solitary mindset, and at that particular moment in my life Jane Eyre really resonated. I read it back again recently and found it a different novel. Rochester annoyed me much more than the first time.

It’s the beauty of her writing, but also the depth of the emotions and experiences she describes. I am one of these people who would much rather learn history through literature, and although I’d read a fair bit of nonfiction about the American civil war and slavery, this book deepening my understanding of the brutality of it, the deep scarring it left behind. I’ve loved everything else she’s written, although I never got to meet her, which is a source of great regret

I’ve got plenty of writing aspirations, I’m just not sure I’ve got any writing talent! I think initially if I wrote a book it would probably be of the nonfiction variety, but I would love to think I could write a novel that people would want to read. I’m certainly not saying I’ll never try.


Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more