Nnedi Okorafor: ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide Made Me Laugh Myself To Tears’

Nnedi Okoroafor. Image: Nnedi

The science fiction author on Michael Palin’s skewed perspective, being terrified by Stephen King, and her love of the Moomins

The book I am currently reading

Sahara by Michael Palin. I love travelogues and I love the Sahara. His point of view is a little ... skewed, but I expected that. I’m enjoying it.

The book that changed my life

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. It was the first novel I ever read and I fell madly in love with reading stories of length because of that experience.

The book I wish I’d written

I don’t wish I’d written any books but my own.

The book that had the greatest influence on me

The Famished Road by Ben Okri. This was Igbo culture, mysticism, realism, strong character, poetry in prose, the most fantastic storytelling I’ve ever seen, all rolled into one.

The last book that made me cry

Slave by Mende Nazer. I cried out of outrage when reading this memoir. Also Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi and I, Phoolan by Phoolan Devi.

The last book that made me laugh

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It’s the only book that’s ever made me laugh myself to tears.

The book I couldn’t finish

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. A fantastic read, yes. I used to play semi-pro tennis, so I could relate to it on that level, as well. But it was just too long.

The book that changed my mind

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer. I’d always been against capital punishment and that was that; this novel made me truly think it through. I remain against capital punishment, but I have clearer reasons now.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read

There’s no such book for me. I read what I can; there’s no shame in not getting to everything I want to read.

My earliest reading memory

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This was the book that pushed me to read for the first time. I remember the exact moment. I was sitting in the library enjoying the pictures. One minute the letters were gibberish, the next they made sense and were telling me a story about a ravenous baby insect. It was like magic. And for this reason, I still view reading as a magical power.

My comfort read

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. It’s a wonderful hero’s journey. King’s ability to pull a reader into his worlds, even when they are terrifying, is genius. I read it when I was 12, the same age as the novel’s protagonist, and that affected my reading and internalisation of the story – it stays with me to this day.

The book I give as a gift

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. Because I know it will rewire the mind of whoever reads it. It’s such a powerful and strange novel – you don’t emerge from the journey unaffected.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for

We’ll see.

• Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor is published by Simon & Schuster. She will be appearing at Ake festival in Nigeria, which takes place 24-27 October. akefestival.org.