Psychologist logo
Dr Sebastian Cordoba
BPS updates

Books that shaped me…

Dr Sebastian Cordoba (he/him) told us about the books that informed, inspired and delighted him.

31 January 2023

The first book I loved…

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. As a child growing up in Colombia, it was impossible to escape the magical – and often political – world of Macondo, an isolated, fictional city that represents the struggles and hopes of Latin American people. I read this book several times as a child, charting the multi-generational family tree of the Buendías, and attempting to understand the use of magical realism to tell complicated stories relating to colonialism, war, and generational trauma. Writing this is making me want to read it again, as I’m sure my lens will be very different now! 

Favourite book now…

I find All About Love by bell hooks quite comforting. I love her writing style, her honesty, and her way of connecting personal stories with high level concepts relating to the philosophy and psychology of love, community, and affection. I read it during one of the most difficult times of the pandemic, when things felt hopeless. I have returned to this book during happy times as well. It taught me that love is not just a noun, but a verb – and that ‘to love’ is one of the most powerful tools to build meaningful connections and to a happier, more accepting society. 

The key ingredients of a good book…

I love when books strike an emotional chord while simultaneously teaching a valuable lesson. I have devoured the Heartstopper graphic novels (Volumes 1-4) by Alice Oseman. These books have all the things I need: beautiful illustrations, queer representation, emotional rollercoasters, life lessons, and the promise of more books!  

The role of books in our psychological growth…

Books allow us to grow our imaginations and to perceive the world in ways that challenge our preconceived notions. For me, it’s always felt great to feel represented. I consumed every single book I could that included queer characters or was written by queer people. This representation allowed me to come to terms with my own sexual and gender identities, providing me with a great deal of self-esteem and self-acceptance. Anything by Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), Kate Bornstein (Gender Outlaw), Leslie Feinberg (Stone Butch Blues), Virginia Woolf (Orlando), and James Baldwin (Giovanni’s Room) made me feel at home. It’s disheartening to hear that books on LGBTQ+ issues are being banned in places like Texas, as this will only limit people’s understanding of themselves and others, leading to stigma, discrimination, and internalised homophobia/transphobia. 

A book which changed the way I think

Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble changed the way I understood gender and sex. Butler’s key argument is that these concepts are socially constructed and in constant motion, as they are affected by culture, history, class, sexuality etc. This book allowed me to see that sex is as multi-dimensional and complex as gender is, and that reducing it to a binary is reductive and, in many ways, irresponsible. The labels that we attach to our bodies/identities are contingent upon our culture, which is constantly changing. 

One book that all psychologists should read…

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker is a must-read for any psychologist looking to understand what queer is all about. It’s illustrated by cartoonist Jules Scheele, making it not only an accessible read, but an entertaining one. I have recommended it to students, colleagues, friends, and family members, and I still read it from time to time when I want to revisit a key concept in queer theory. 

A ‘desert island’ book…

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar has been on my reading list for – and I hate to admit it – decades. It’s long, complex, and it can be read in different ways, allowing for multiple endings. I’ve always wanted to read it, so I would probably have the time to do so in a deserted island. I would most likely read it several times, following all the variations. 

A book I find therapeutic to read…

Last Christmas, my husband gifted me No Straight Lines, an anthology of queer comics covering a 40-year period from the late 1960s to the late 2000s. I read the whole thing over the break, and I found it extremely therapeutic – it was entertaining, enlightening, funny and inspiring. 

Bookshelves should be: in alphabetical order/free range

Alphabetical! How would you find the book otherwise? There is aesthetic value in organising by colour or height, but it is less practical when your home library grows. 

Last pages: sneak a peek or never look?

I peek, but only to the last sentence. There’s something poetic about knowing something about the ending, even if the context is missing. 

Sebastian Cordoba is a senior lecturer in social psychology at London Metropolitan University. His book Non-binary gender identities: The language of becoming is published by Routledge. It examines how non-binary people discover, adopt, and negotiate language in a variety of social settings, both offline and online. It considers how language (including gender-neutral pronouns, names and labels) is a central aspect of identity and the subject of much debate in recent years.