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Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Image: Archi Banal)
Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Image: Archi Banal)

BooksJuly 26, 2023

The local novel that haunts MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Image: Archi Banal)
Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Image: Archi Banal)

Welcome to The Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits and quirks of New Zealanders at large. This week: MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan.

The book I wish I’d written

I still live in hope that one day I can write a book. Probably not an autobiography but maybe a work of fiction that’s a psychological thriller – something along the lines of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. Or maybe something along the lines of Liza Dalby’s Geisha. She was the only foreigner to ever become a geisha and she wrote a book about it that I read many years ago and was fascinated by. 

Everyone should read

I Am Autistic by Chanelle Moriah. I was gifted this book at a World Autism Day breakfast I hosted recently at parliament. The book aims to educate readers about what having autism is like, from the perspective of an autistic person. Currently, autism isn’t well understood, and this book is a beautiful, well-written opportunity to educate readers. I do happen to have a signed copy, which obviously makes it even more special.

The book I want to be buried with

I actually want to be cremated, and I choose to be cremated with A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. It’s quite the depressing read (hence taking it to my death), but it is also such a beautifully written piece of art. It’s based in India during The Emergency and portrays the impact that particular time had on people and the bonds that were formed in the face of such a turbulent time. It’s a melancholic read, and rather dark, but beautiful.

The first book I remember reading by myself

I remember reading those Peter and Jane books that start off really simple, with large wording and lots of pictures. They were about the siblings’ escapades to the seaside and in their own garden. Pretty sure they had a dog! The books become slightly more challenging – with more words and fewer pictures – as your reading advances. I remember loving to read even as a young kid at kindy!

From left to right: the book that Priyanca thinks everyone should read; the book she wishes she’d written; and the book she’d take to the afterlife.

Dystopia or Utopia?

I enjoy a little bit of dystopia – for example, I really enjoyed George Orwell’s 1984. It depicted a world that was built around some of the most troubling aspects of society. However, I’m intrinsically an optimist so I prefer books like Aldous Huxley’s Island – or for a children’s version of utopian fiction, I absolutely loved Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood and Faraway Tree series for the bright, funny characters who lived in the tree and the different magical worlds that visited the top of the tree!

Fiction or non-fiction

Reading for me now is a key opportunity for escapism, so it really must be fiction. I read so much for work that when I have a break, I find myself reaching for light fiction that is simple, funny or nostalgic. I generally pick something by Sophie Kinsella or Cath Kelly. I also love books that make me feel nostalgic and so I loved the Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan – it was escapism, and it took me right back to Singapore where I grew up.

The book that haunts me

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton haunts me because I’ve never finished it but I’ve often talked publicly about intending to complete it! I remember an interview a couple years back about what I’d be reading over that summer, and with the best of intentions I said “The Luminaries”. I didn’t finish it that summer. I tried again the following summer but happened to be moving house and had already packed The Luminaries away! So people who’ve read those interviews ask me how I found the book and I just have to fess up and say I still haven’t finished reading it – and so it continues to haunt me.

The book that made me cry

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani. This is book about Behrouz’s life as he journeyed to Christmas Island and then his detention on Manus Island – it’s a tough read. And then when you think about the fact that he wrote it by drafting paragraphs on his phone and sending it to a translator via WhatsApp – it is just incredible. It is an example of beautiful writing that is also such a powerful act of resistance. 

The book that made me laugh

The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella was a hoot-and-a-half! Becky Bloomwood is a financial journalist who is addicted to shopping and is just full of shenanigans that would make anyone laugh! I think it’s chick-lit at its best.

The book I never admit I’ve read

Anything from Trisha Ashley. Her books are comfortable rom-coms with sensible, strong heroines who will rather predictably fall in love towards the end but whose journeys are peppers with lovely friendships, and set in delightful English villages. They’re total comfort reads! Some of my favs are Chocolate Wishes and The Little Teashop of Lost and Found.

From left to right: a favourite children’s utopia; a favourite dystopia; and a book that made Priyanca laugh.

The book character I identify with most

This is easy – Anne of Green Gables. I remember reading these books as a kid and I just aspired to be everything she was. Anne was feisty, she spoke her mind and she lived her truth. I wanted to live my life on my own terms, just like her. My husband Ewan recently brought me the entire collectable series all these years later and I realised that there are a couple of books that I haven’t actually read! Finally, she always had people misspell her name. I have it engrained in my mind that she was an Anne with an “e”. I’m Priyanca with a “c”. We’re practically twins. 

Best place to read

I can’t think of anything more perfect than lying on a beach in summer, with a cocktail and a good book. If it’s winter, I’d be lounging on a couch with a good glass of red and a roaring fire! So I guess there are three key ingredients when it comes to the best place to read: somewhere comfy to lounge in, a glass of something and a fair bit of time so that I can relax into the plot and characters!

What are you reading right now?

Three months out from an election, I’m struggling to find any time to read anything for pleasure. So currently, I’m pretty much just reading Cabinet papers and other work-related stuff!

You can purchase or order the books mentioned above at Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.

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