Shelf Life

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, July 7, 2016 | Go to article overview

Shelf Life


Rupa Huq

What books or authors meant most to your younger self?

As a child, I remember being given a Famous Five book by an elderly neighbour as a Christmas present. As someone of immigrant stock, my parents were not arbiters of what I read, and didn't read, in children's fiction. My sister, who is six years older and now my constituent, was horrified at this un-PC choice, but I ended up devouring the whole series. Around this time I also really liked Roald Dahl, and then later I got into Judy Blume. As a teenager, I was probably reading revision-type books and the NME.

You have written about the suburbs in 'On the Edge: The Contested Cultures of English Suburbia'. Have you a favourite work of fiction on the subject?

Suburbs took shape in our popular imagination thanks to portrayals in literature. I particularly like George Orwell's Coming up For Air. He was a lefty, so it's a searing analysis of the materialism of the suburban way of life, centring on a frustrated suburbanite escaping back to his childhood surrounds of the countryside and its rural idyll, only to discover that it has become suburbanised. More recently, the diversity of suburbia has been captured in books such as Nikesh Shukla's novel Coconut Unlimited, set in Harrow, about hip hop-obsessed youth, Gautam Malkani's Londonstani, about mobile-phone obsessed youth in Hounslow, and Disobedience, a novel about gay Jewish London, and specifically Hendon, by Naomi Alderman. I found all three of these novels very illuminating.

The volume you edited, 'Reading the Riot Act: Reflections on the 2011 Urban Disorders in England', in which a number of academics consider these events, was completed before you were elected MP for Ealing in May 2015. …

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