My Life in Books

Ali Hassan shares 5 reads that have shaped his life

Ali Hassan shares 5 books that shaped his life and work.
Ali Hassan is the host of CBC Radio's Laugh Out Loud, as well as host of Canada Reads 2017. (CBC Arts)

The host of Canada Reads 2017Ali Hassan is well poised to moderate the annual battle of the books. His father was a literature professor who kept hundreds of books in the house and when he's not hosting CBC Radio's Laugh Out Loud, or being a chef, stand-up comic or actor, Hassan has been known to crack open a book or two. 

In CBC Books' My Life in Books series, he shares five books that have meant the most to him. 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 

Aldous Huxley was nominated seven times for a Nobel Prize. (Vintage Canada)

"This was the first book that truly floored me. It concerned me when I read it in high school, and genuinely frightens me now — even though, apparently, it was supposed to be satire. How could Huxley have known that much about the future? Was the world that predictable or did he have a superhuman gift of foresight? Or is it just pure coincidence that the world we live in is already starting to resemble Huxley's 2540 AD? He wrote this book in 1931 and predicted a consumer-driven, drug-addicted and highly sexualized society. He also anticipated the developments in reproduction, sleep-learning and psychological conditioning. No flying cars in Brave New World, however. Which makes me sad."

Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair. (Penguin/Vernon Richard)

"Animal Farm had the best talking animals of all time. Mr. Ed, Babe... yes, I'm even including you. This book eventually taught me about the power of metaphor (or more accurately, allegory). As I read the dialogue between these animals, and their roles on the farm, I realized, 'Ooohhh, they're not talking about the farm, are they?' I didn't know what Orwell was really writing about at the time, but I knew I loved it. Only later did I find out this book was written as anti-Stalinist satire, and only in the last decade have I fully appreciated what Orwell had set out to do. In an interview, he stated that his goal was 'to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole' — which isn't so different from what George Carlin, one of my favourite comedians, did. Word has it that my beloved Star Wars also used the same technique."

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri's book, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (HighBridge/Random House)

"Interpreter of Maladies was introduced to me at a point when my attention deficit disorder was at its worst. I couldn't buy myself an attention span. I couldn't pay attention to anything for longer than a few pages, and this book of short stories came along and kept me engaged in every beautiful story, all the while teaching me that you don't necessarily need 400 pages to tell a beautiful tale."

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini's novel was made into plays, a movie, and a graphic novel.

"I have never been as emotionally moved by a book as I was by The Kite Runner. I didn't cry or anything like that (obviously) but strangely there were many moments as I read this book in which my eyes filled up with fat tears that ran down my face. So... allergies, obviously. I recommend this book to anyone truly seeking an escape from their lives. It is sad, heart-wrenching and beautiful. Just don't read it on the beach, or you'll ruin the vacation of the people around you."

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. (Harper Perennial Modern Classics/Bjorn Elgstrand, AP)

"My father was an English teacher who taught a class called Third World Fiction. As such, there were many books from authors in South Asia, Africa and Latin America in our home. One standout was this one, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Every year my father would read it once. I would see him passed out with the book on his face and think 'Again? How many times does this guy need to read this book?' After one read it was clear to me. As soon as you're done reading Márquez, you want to experience his words and his characters again. The backstory of how Márquez sold his car so his family could afford to eat while he wrote makes this all the more a fantastic read."

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