Zerbanoo Gifford was born in India. A former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, she is active in community politics and has written several books about Asian affairs. She lives with her husband, Richard, a solicitor, and they have two boys Mark, 18, and Alexander ('Wags'), 14, who is at Harrow school. An exhibitioner, he is obliged to board and sleeps down the road from his parents. He is editor of the 'Harrovian' magazine.

Wags: There was a time when I was very reluctant to read, between the ages of eight and 11, though I remember liking Roald Dahl's Matilda, The BFG and his poems.

I used to read a lot of mythology books because we've got quite a few in the house. And history books, we've got lots of them. My brother read them first. In the past I read a lot of those role-playing books where it says 'to go north, turn to page 62'. Appointment With Death was one I remember - a bit trashy, really, but it was quick and easy high action.

I've only recently started reading a lot, though as a boarder I don't have much time in the week. I read a newspaper every morning, the Times at school and the Independent at home.

I read Lord of the Flies a couple of years ago and thought it was good. It's about boys of my age group, action, changes in human nature and so on. And I like reading plays, partly because they're short.

The best book I've ever read was Richard Durham's life story of Muhammad Ali. Since then Ali has become an idol of mine and I've collected a lot of books on him. He was doing a signing at Whiteleys, so I got his autograph and got him on camera. I've just finished The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, a cult novel set in the Scottish highlands. It's weird and funny. I'd say I now read adult books, though I don't really go for classics.

My parents have never forced me to read, but when I wasn't reading much they'd make suggestions. Two summers ago I read the Iliad and The Odyssey on their recommendation. We went on holiday and there wasn't much going on, so I got stuck in.

Zerbanoo: I taught both my sons to read, and used to read aloud to them before they went to sleep. It became a relaxing ritual. I was a local councillor then, and it was always just before I went out to council meetings: bath, book and bed.

It was a time of bonding, just us and the book and no interruptions from the telephone or television. When Wags was quite small, we read about the prophet Zoroaster, and I had a series of 12 miniature paintings done across a cupboard in his bedroom, with captions written underneath, describing the stages of the prophet's life from a little baby. Wags learned to read from that, reciting the captions every night. It seemed to give him confidence.

I am a great believer in catholicism in reading - cartoons, pop-up books, everything. You've got to be exposed to quality, but not all the time. If you're not given variety, you don't learn discretion. At one stage the boys wanted Mr Men books, and we had to have Mr Men stationery, Mr Men birthday cakes, the lot. The next year everything was Babar. That was OK. At the end they got a love of reading.

Books didn't play a very large part in my childhood. I came here at the age of three and a half, and was brought up in the hotel our family ran in the West End of London. My parents still run it. I mostly watched black and white television. Nobody had television in India, so it was something amazing. I was glued to the children's programmes - Blue Peter and The Lone Ranger. The set was in the hotel reception and I would watch it endlessly as I sat behind the desk, helping out. It didn't occur to me to read because there were no books around. And, anyway, I don't think they made much sense to me. I remember being taken to the local library and coming home with Winnie the Pooh. It was completely lost on me, all that business about bears and honey. And I remember the Brer Rabbit books for the same reason. I was a London child and I'd never seen a rabbit.

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