Books that Changed My Life #BagriTeam

In honour of The Bottom Drawer launching on 27 May, our Head of Arts Chelsea Pettitt shares some of the books that changed her life.

Amy Tan's ‘The Opposite of Fate’

This was a proper life-changing personal memoir for me. Having grown up with Amy Tan’s books, especially The Joy Luck Club, famously made into a movie when I was a teenager, I read everything she writes with such joy and expectation. Family life and the complex identity of Chinese American-ness runs through her books, but this memoir was a relflection on her being dianogsed with Lyme disease and how it changed her life. I’ve read it many times since.

Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’


Blue Nights was actually the first book of hers I read and I was hooked! But this one is truly magical and encourages gratefulness and love for what we have, whilst we still have it. Her openness and thoughts about grief are life-changing.

Khaled Hosseini ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’

This heart-breaking and beautifully written story features strong female characters set against different periods of Afghan history. An important insight to me into the tricky world of navigating Afghanistan under the Taliban whilst being a woman. Kite Runner was also great, but this one had such great prose from the perspective of the women that I related to it so much more.

Anchee Min 'Wild Ginger'

This is just one of her many beautiful, sweeping Chinese stories leading me to read all of her books as a young woman and inspired me to learn about Chinese history. With stories set against the Cultural Revolution, as well as during the many dynasties that ruled China over the years, the drama and spectacle, mixed with incredible characters, just sucks me right in. It was through her and Amy Tan, that I realised how much I wanted to study China. 

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday 'Mao: The Unknown Story'

This was the first book I read by Jung Chang, and it was extremely long and epic! It was quite the eye-opener considering the usual history about Mao that we read more widely. However, I also loved Wild Swans and recently purchased her latest Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister. She has a real knack for telling untold stories of history through the lens of those that lived through it.

Jonathan Franzen 'Freedom'

Jonathan Franzen’s first book The Corrections passed me by for some reason, so Freedom was my first introduction to his writing.  I think, as usual, it was down to my personal interest in a female story. What struck me is his ability to write from the perspective of women so well. I really related to Patty, the main character and the changes she was going through living in Suburbia with so many expectations upon her. His essay collection How to Be Alone also had me in tears of sadness and laughter! It’s such a joy to read his work.

Azadeh Moaveni 'Guest House for Young Widows' and 'Lipstick Jihad'

Lipstick Jihad was the first book that I read by Moaveni, at a young age whilst living in Los Angeles. Coupled with the fact that I had a number of friends who were first generation Iranian-American, it inspired me to learn more about women’s lives in Iran. When I read Guest House, I loved how empathetic her writing was, really considering the individuals in the story and what influences and circumstances they found themselves in. A real eye-opener. I hope it is widely read!

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