I meet many people reading great books. Here Alex Glenday backstage at Paul Smith A/W2011 was reading Alexander Mcall Smith’s The Careful Use of Compliments.
Think I’m just a chick who doesn’t get time to read. Seriously? I do more than clothes. What follows are the ten books that have changed my life.
When I was 20, I tried sushi for the first time
Have you ever felt instantly cheated. Asked yourself this question silently. “How could I NOT have tasted this food before?” When I was 20, I tried sushi for the first time. It seems patently unfair to wait two decades to discover a favorite food. Different than a band or film. Primal. “How did we just meet? Where were you when I was 6, 14, 20?” “What took you so long?” Anyway, some books are just like sushi.
There were some parents who were very anti- Roald Dahl. They felt that he was too imaginative, not educational enough, but my parents luckily for me always loved him. I particularly remember James’s sense of adventure in James and the Giant Peach and the bit about the magic insects striking out against the two naughty aunts and pushing the Giant Peach Over their house (hope I haven’t spoiled that bit for you). I couldn’t get enough of this – James and the Giant Peach under the covers with a torch! The bit where the Giant Peach crushes the baddies is horrifying, but relatable now. I often zone out and think of this scene when someone’s being particularly nasty.
That this was Sigmund Freud’s favourite novel, doesn’t surprise me. I found it at a very young age. It’s savage as in full of savagery. David Copperfield is one of the greatest books ever written. David is the most well thought out and well rounded character through a novel that I’ve ever read and I experienced this before I ever thought seriously about being a writer. I rarely read fiction these days but this was an eye opener when I was small. I read it in one sitting! Who knew this is how brutal the world could be?
I remember walking through the fields at my parents house after finishing this book. I felt as though I had eaten the most beautiful piece of cake ever made. I walked for miles just thinking about it before I worked it out of my system. It’s a fictional account although part autobiographical about a penniless British writer among the down-and-outs of two great cities (Paris and London). In Paris he works as a dishwasher in a posh French restaurant while in London while looking for a job he experiences the poverty of the street people and society. It may not be to everybody’s taste (the dire poverty is hard) but it serves as a perfect foil to the world of luxury which we’re enticed by every single day. It’s the book that taught me to look at the world the way I do.
Lizzie Bennett was a complete NERD, I can relate to that. Nobody could understands her. I can relate to that too. She wasn’t the prettiest girl, but she was smart – and listen y’all, GIRLS LIKE THIS deserve Mr Darcys TOO! This book is like slipping into a beautiful warm bath, a perfectly constructed rom com. It set the scene for so many successful contemporary stories like Carrie and Mr. Big in Sex And The City, and the entire story of Bridget Jones’s Diary. You know deep down how it’s going to play out… loads of things in the way but the girl gets the guy in the end. I’m always relieved when that happens.
I read Proust at 14, I remember thinking back then “This is the type of writer I’d like to become.” It’s often so rambling and it’s very long and so, s0 different from any other type of writing I’ve ever seen. I’ll use any excuse to chat about it… Vivienne Westwood confessed that she had never read it. I was surprised. She reads so much and lots of non-fiction, science, stuff that will help her understand our planet. I told her that if I was shipwrecked on a desert island like on the TV series LOST I’d probably want this box set. It could always be used to fight off an angry Polar Bear.
My list of girl crushes is growing. This morning I added Colette. I read her book Chéri and The Last of Chéri while in college and would lug it about to look interesting. It’s about a concubine employed to teach a young man the many subtle ways of love. But the man slowly falls in love with her. He ‘graduates’ leaves the concubine and tries to get back to his normal life. Expected to then marry a person of his own class, he can’t go through with it. The book explores human nature – which to me, along with art, is the most interesting subject there is. They say there are things you shouldn’t discuss at dinner. But if people don’t want to talk about life what do they want to discuss? A good dinner chat should be like a good Woody Allen movie.
This is Fitzgerald’s finest work. In it Gatsby is a man trying to find a life he wasn’t born into, it reminds me a little of Don Draper’s struggle in Mad Men. At some point or another we have all felt this way. No one understands our desires to be what we want to be. At school I was told I should become a doctor. Um, right! I retreat to Gatsby at times when I meet a difficult fork in the road. Fitzgerald had Gatsby break through class and personal barriers for everyone.
A book I found recently (and bought copies for everyone at Christmas) was Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life. It’s wonderful – and I thought about how much, without meaning to, how Coco inspires me. She grew from nothing. Maybe we have similar characters…. I don’t know. One of the things I love about the book is the research. The author Justine Picardie had full access to the Chanel files and wrote it in Chanel’s apartment in Paris at Chanel’s desk. There has been so much written about Coco Chanel’s life which is untrue. Everything about this book is truthful and beautiful, the story, the pictures, the paper and the fact that Coco Chanel continued to work until the day that she died. Amazing!
I think Heston Blumenthal is the perfect food writer in The Fat Duck Cook Book. In a way I’m drawn to him because he’s writing has a lot to do with experimentation and an inquisitive nature which I identify with, but when I read his books, I feel like I’m in the presence of an intelligence which is far greater than mine. I love his scholarliness and the way he wears it so lightly – I learnt a lot from meeting him. I’m all for not meeting people you adore because I think, in the end, it’s easy to be let down (it’s happened). But Heston was charming, clever and unassuming, the sort of man that I end up being friends with. Now when I see him on TV, I look with the innocent hope of somebody who’d like to think he would say hello to me and remember me if we met again.
I love non-fiction above fiction and have given away so many copies of On Writing – A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King to writers who ask me about things like… the difficulty of writing, where does one find inspiration and how do you unclog writer’s block? Like I’d know!!!! (Well maybe the last one). A friend of mine, who’s a writer in London, introduced me to this book when I was halfway through writing my second book The Goddess Experience. Had he given it to me earlier, I would never have started, because I read it and thought, “This is it, the way he explains things is so easy and clear, I want to be able to write without fear.” The book opens with a mini-memoir (like a mini autobiography) and tells of his return to work after his horrific accident. The second half of the book explains his struggle and the craft of writing. It’s remarkable, revealing and brave. It’s HILARIOUS and he’s a GENIUS and it’s a book that when you read it, you do that really irritating thing of reading out loud from it to your friends (although King says NEVER do it with your own work if you’ve written a book script. Put it in a drawer and let it rest a little.)
And about that reading out load thing from published books. I do it all the time. Drives people crazy. Is there anything more annoying in the world?