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Books that did it for me

Updated: May 21, 2021

Zahra Barri reveals her connection with Nora, Erica and Lady C


Since time is running out before CWIP 2021 entries close (May 28th) oh sorry did we just mention May 28th, and we’re all running about panicking (maybe not running) - Helen asked last year’s runner up Zahra Barri to let some of her reading influences rub off on the rest of us. Selfish, we know….

I realised that most of the books that I am drawn to are a rebellious reaction to my oppressive childhood living in Saudi Arabia. By this I mean that the very books that I gravitate to are the very books that would be banned there.

Growing up I was so starved of gratuitousness that the most titillating books I read while in Saudi Arabia were Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew. In fact, I can remember scratching off the black marker which had been used to cover the long pink legs and ample bosoms of the Wakefield twins and the, err, arms, of the feminist crime sleuth and feeling very naughty indeed. Once firmly into puberty I was like a drug addict. I knew a bookdealer that could get me a copy of ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret’ only to find the pages of the masturbation scene torn out. In all fairness my dealer had been deeply apologetic and promised the next case of Judy Bloom he was getting, would be, pardon the pun, untouched.

When I returned to the UK I was like a kid in a candy shop or Charlie in the Chocolate Factory (also banned for having the word ‘Charlie’ in the title) parading the aisles of Waterstones, the voice of Verruca Salt in my head screaming, ‘I can get anything I want!’. I got it all, Ottessa Moshfegh, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski, Nora Ephron, Leila Slimani, Charlotte Roche. I was hungry for books on Sex so I read D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I was ravenous for books on Drugs so I ready Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting and I was starving for books on, umm, Bacon so I read Peppa Pig.

Slowly the novelty of smut and taboo wore off and my reading habits levelled out and went back down to reading normal things like Normal People and appreciating the simplicity of beauty in On Beauty. But then, the other day while perusing the shelves of the oldest and rarest bookshop in the country which just so happens to be down the road from my flat, I discovered, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and found my penchant for absolute filth returning.

Erica Jong’s name alone emits so much sexuality, she could be mistaken for a Bond Girl and her prose is equally full of eroticism and witticisms and empowers the female psyche. And that’s when I realised the exact kind of book I love is a book that is not simply racy or taboo but funny as fuck and packs an empowering feminist punch.

That’s why Comedy Women in Print exists, to applaud and commend this ‘genre’ of fiction.

(Helen Lederer: Neatly positioned Zahra)

Zarah holding her CWIP WINNING NOVEL 'Bird on a River'
Zahra holding her CWIP WINNING NOVEL 'Bird on a River'

If you are funny and female, get writing and enter their prestigious prize, your voice and your words are like precious Arabian jewels.

Zahra Barri is a Writer and Comedian and Runner Up of the CWIP Prize 2020. She is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordhsire (her prize from CWIP) and next year she intends to start her PhD in Creative Writing. She also has a podcast with her comedian boyfriend, Russell Hicks, called Domestic Disputes which documents the couples’ arguments, fights and heated debates. (Available on all podcast platforms).

Follow her on Twitter @zahrabarri1

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