Sarah Ahmad, urbanist, public programmer and currently a consultant for the inaugural Lahore Biennale’s Mapping Project, jots down her love for the written word
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
I’m a Shakespeare buff, and it’s hard to pick a favourite from his works, but I often find myself quoting from Antony and Cleopatra. It is such a powerful story about love, politics, history and the grandeur of the Roman Empire. At the centre of this plot is a strong female protagonist — Cleopatra — who is an important ruler and a demi-goddess in human history. I (not so) secretly wish I could play Cleopatra in a stage production of this play.
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
I think I have read everything that Kamila Shamsie has published and I just love the way she weaves a story. She’s such a gifted writer and in Kartography she effortlessly carries you through upper-class Karachi, friendship, and love. I finished the book in one afternoon. I can go on and on about it, but for now, I recommend it very highly.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger is a go-to book for anybody looking to better understand the absurdist and existentialist genres. This is a hard-hitting tale about a man held by court of public opinion due to his inability to conform to social norms. At the core of this story is a narrative about emotional and social acceptability, which resonates long after you’re done with the book.
Samarkand by Amin Maalouf
This is a beautiful novel. Amin Maalouf writes about the city as a character, and his incomparable imaginative and descriptive prowess makes this story a literary masterpiece.
Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
This is for the romantics out there — those who have delved into the intricacies of emotional relationships, had their heart broken and have (kind of) enjoyed talking about it. Alain de Botton is one of my favourite philosophers and authors. He writes about human relationships with a unique contemporary understanding of their layered complexities.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
This book should not need an introduction. There are two parts of my spiritual life — one before I read The Prophet and one after. Everyone should read this book.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
I’m an urbanist, and this book is part of urbanist scripture. It is one of the pioneering criticisms of the short-sightedness of modern city planning. Jane Jacobs is a very important figure for those of us who have studied urban design and planning history. This book might be for a niche audience, but it holds a very special place in my personal and professional growth.