President Barack Obama says novels taught him many things about the world - including empathy and how to be a citizen. There is no question that novels can take us out of our world and plunge us into others, giving us access to experiences we might never acquire.
Growing up, my grandmother bought me the classics and I loved Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn - I was a little Scottish girl with no connection to the American South, but I learned a lot about racism in those books. Growing older, it was reading Cap and Candle by Dorothy Blatter, the story of a young Turkish girl who defied her family and went off to study nursing in Istanbul, that made me think I could change the world - just a little. But it was later, in my late teens, when a novel really had an impact. Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls made me realise that I was not the only girl trying to buck her way out of an overly traditional family. Kate and Baba's adventures gave me the strength to take control of my own life.
Novels are all very personal, their impact on us is personal. I'm sure we can all tell the story of a novel that changed how we looked at life - or what we did with our lives.
I'd love to hear about yours.