Lea Ypi's Reading ListBy The Happy Reader
Lea Ypi is an extraordinary person. She speaks six languages and her widely acclaimed debut FREE has been shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize and the Costa Biography award. Growing up in communist Albania in the 1980s, education was currency, and in asking Lea about her youth, you’re just as likely to hear about Stalin and Hegel as you are playground crushes.
As you’d expect, her recommended reading list is suitably erudite and unusual. On Kant’s CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, Lea says ‘try approaching it as a kind of coming of age story in which the main character is reason’, and on the experimental writing of Clarice Lispector’s THE HOUR OF THE STAR, ‘this book helped me make peace with a whole literary genre’.
Jack London£12.99 £12.34
I read this book as a pre-teenager. All the themes of great novels are in it: impossible love, art, politics, class divides, ambition, triumph and death. The discussions on Herbert Spencer sparked my interest in philosophy though I later discovered more appealing theories. Plus, I don’t think I have cried so much at anything else I have read ever since.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky£12.99 £12.34
This is my favourite novel ever. I read it three times, in three different languages and it did not disappoint in any of them. It depicts the conflict between populists and modernisers in 19th century Russia, and offers one of the most sophisticated ways into the political and moral tragedies that were to come. “If Stavrogin believes, then he does not think that he believes. But if he doesn’t believe, he does not think that he does not believe”, Dostoevsky writes. For Albert Camus, this was an anticipation of the 20th century mindset, its irony and nihilism combined.
Ivan Turgenev£9.99 £9.49
Women in 19th century novels written by men are typically vulnerable, emotionally unstable, easily manipulated creatures. Think of Ana Karenina, Emma Bovary or Effi Briest. Not so Madame Odintsova. She is strong, intelligent and fiercely independent. This may explain why she is not the main character in the novel, although I find her the most interesting one.
Immanuel Kant£18.99 £18.04
Many would say this is a dry, abstract and difficult to read book of philosophy. Try approaching it as a kind of coming of age story in which the main character is reason, who fights against dogmatism and scepticism in an effort to both come to terms with its own mistakes and find a way to assert its authority. It will be an entirely different reading experience. And though Kant himself would not necessarily approve, you might even feel the thrill.
Leo Tolstoy£22.00 £20.90
This kept me company night and day during a lockdown in 1997. The country was on the verge of collapse, the state had lost the monopoly over the use of force and I had to prepare for my A levels while Kalashnikov bullets kept falling on my window sill. This sentence from Tolstoy resonated deeply, and stayed with me: "The higher the human intellect goes in discovering more and more purposes, the more obvious it becomes that the ultimate purpose is beyond comprehension."
Simone de Beauvoir£10.99 £10.44
There may be other books written by Simone De Beauvoir that paint a much more sophisticated picture of the views of one of the feminist icons of the 20th century. But I don’t think any of them is as beautifully written, relatable and touching as her story of growing up in a bourgeois French family and progressively discovering both the role society has created for her and why she must resist it.
Vladimir Lenin£11.99 £11.39
Like other great classics of political theory, from Hobbes’s Leviathan to Machiavelli’s Prince, this is fundamentally a book about the nature of real politics and the violent character of the state, regardless of the justifications one can come up with. But unlike them, there is a utopian streak which has gone little noticed, and that I find very appealing: true democracy is only realised when we no longer need external laws to tell us what to do, because we have internalised their authority. This is why the state is not smashed or destroyed as a result of a political act. It simply withers away when the right conditions are in place.
Chinua Achebe£9.99 £9.49
This book is, on an immediate level, about life in pre-colonial Africa and the devastation and disruption caused by the ‘white man'. But it is also so much more because it explains very effectively how colonialism is not simply the result of Western ambitions to acquire land and resources, or to dominate others by taking political control. It is, at a deeper level, the result of epistemic ignorance about other traditions combined with epistemic arrogance, the claim to know better than others. Reading this book makes you understand why the colonial legacy is so pervasive, and how colonial attitudes can linger in the mind long after they are declared gone from official texts.
Clarice Lispector£7.99 £7.59
Experimental writing, stream of consciousness, and time travel have brought critics to often compare Lispector to Joyce. I am not a fan of modernism in literature. I never managed to finish Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, and I always felt guilty about it. This book, much shorter, set in Rio de Janeiro rather than Dublin, and surprisingly enjoyable, helped me make peace with a whole literary genre.