The author and cook on a life-changing book by Marilynne Robinson, the snobbery surrounding commercial success, and the food writer she hugely admires
Nigella Lawson … ‘A writer’s voice is so intensely personal.’ Photograph: Matt Holyoak
Nigella Lawson – The Guardian
The book I am currently reading
I’m suffering from crippling reader’s block. I had months of it during the earliest months of the first long lockdown, then recovered, but now, since about a week ago, find myself back in another bout. I don’t know what’s worse about it: the despair or the overwhelming sense of alienation. But I have three books on my bedside table that I hope will pull me out of it: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson; Oh Happy Day by Carmen Callil; and My Mother Gets Married by Moa Martinson.
The book that changed my life
There are certain books that have had a piercing effect on me at various stages in my life: as an adolescent, Tonio Kröger by Thomas Mann; as a young woman, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; more recently, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews.
The book I wish I’d written
A writer’s voice is so intensely personal, I can’t quite enter into the spirit of this. But certainly, had I read Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen before starting How to Eat, I’m not sure I’d have bothered.
When I can’t immerse myself in a book I can feel is good, I grow very despondent
The book I think is most underrated
There’s such idiotic snobbery about commercial success. If Elizabeth Gilbert had written The Signature of All Things before Eat, Pray, Love, I’d like to think it would have been recognised for the work of literary brilliance it is. It’s not that it doesn’t have its champions, but it is a remarkable, beautiful novel that too few soi-disant serious readers have even thought to pick up.
The book that changed my mind
I read the second edition of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity a few years ago and found it clarifying and illuminating.
The last book that made me cry or laugh
I have to put these two questions together and answer wholeheartedly with one book: Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb. I’ve read it twice now, and listened to the audiobook three times; every time, I’ve laughed out loud at the voice of the grandmother (whose imagined posthumous memoir this is) and felt my heart crushed in my ribcage by the generations of suffering of mothers and daughters.
The book I couldn’t finish
I’m afraid – see my answer to the first question – this is a recurrent problem. I never mind not finishing a book when I feel it’s not worth my time, but when I can’t immerse myself in a book I can feel is good, I grow very despondent. Most recently, I’d put Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk in that latter category. But as Arnie said: I’ll be back.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I’m not sure it’s shame I feel at all the lacunae in my reading life, more a sense of hopeful excitement at what lies ahead. What I do feel ashamed about are the many great books I know I have read and yet have scant memory of. Thank God for the joys of rereading.
My earliest reading memory
I don’t know how old I was when I – emphatically urban – read The Country Child by Alison Uttley. Probably six or seven, and I think it was my first real understanding of the transporting power of reading.
My comfort read
I’m not sure I’d say I reach for comfort in Dickens’s David Copperfield, but I reread it regularly for a bolstering reminder of greatness, to be made to laugh and reminded that, however many times I read it, it always bowls me over afresh.
The book I give as a gift
I’ve lost count of how often I’ve given friends Anne Enright’s Actress, a pitch-perfect piece of writing.
- Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson is published by Chatto & Windus (£26). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.