There’s something really special about hearing people talk about a book you’ve read – something so unifying and thrilling. It’s like how people ask “do you know my cousin so-and-so?” when they hear where you’re from, despite how unlikely that is. But that feeling of connection is so exciting if the answer is “OMG yes, me and your cousin so-and-so went to school together”. Talking about a book is similar – you’ve gone through such a personal reading experience, submerged yourself in a world that was completely your own, and then you have someone else to talk to and share that experience with.
What’s incredibly exciting (and sometimes a bit disconcerting), is then hearing a book’s author talk. It’s like meeting the internal voice in your head. My favourite podcast is Desert Island Discs, a BBC Radio 4 show where interviewers interview some of the world’s most influential people, from Tom Hanks to Theresa May, about the music they would take with them to a desert island and why. Authors often feature on the show. Here are my favourite author episodes.
Harry Potter is the book series that got me reading, as I blab about a lot, so I owe a big part of my interests and career goals to JK Rowling. She did her desert island interview with Sue Lawley in 2000, only three years after the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Book 1), four months after the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4), and a couple of days after the release of the first film. With three books still to go at the time of the interview, as well as spin-off phenomenons like The Cursed Child or the Fantastic Beasts films, you can hear that she scarcely realises just how big the franchise was going to get. It’s so wholesome. She’s fantastic.
She talks about all sorts of things, within and outside of her magical world. Apparently one of her most unexpected fan bases were parents who felt that Hogwarts was confirming her agreement with boarding school. There’s a lot JK Rowling claims has always been part of the grand plan on Twitter that I’ve found to be implausible, but the way she talks about the boxes full of paper-scraps with world-building notes on them makes me think not all of it is attention-seeking or an attempt to be woke.
Her favourite track: First movement, Violin Concerto in D Major – Tchaikovsky
The book she’d take with her: SAS Survival Guide (a good choice TBF)
Her luxury item of choice: A pen and unlimited paper
I’ve never actually read any Marian Keyes, but hearing her speak to Kirsty Young about her life and her writing was inspiring. She writes genre fiction, mostly with romantic storylines, and this often means her novels are pastel-coloured, shoved into the corner of bookshops and ridiculed as only being suitable reading as a “guilty pleasure” or a poolside read. When asked about this, she responded that calling something “chick-lit” is just another way society practices “mock(ing) women and anything they love”, and how she sees nothing wrong with making something accessible. I’m definitely going to talk more in the future on how the phrase “chick-lit” needs to be removed from our vocabulary and how literary fiction is not the only “respectable” genre. Back to Marian Keyes, though, and her dreamy Irish accent.
She discusses with startling honesty the positive and reformative impact her writing has and had on her battle with depression, attempted suicide and alcoholism. Even if her insistence on a happy ending might not be strictly rooted in reality, the issues she deals with are all dark, gritty and undeniably real. And then again, are happy endings that unrealistic? It’s all about the outlook and what she describes as the inevitability of pain but the choice of suffering. After all Marian Keyes has been through and overcome, she still radiates positivity.
Her favorite track: You Have Been Loved – George Michael AND Earth, Wind & Fire – September
The book she’d take with her: Cryptic crosswords
Her luxury item of choice: Her husband’s photograph (cute, right?)
British contemporary novelist Zadie Smith is a modern mastermind of literature and she is incredible to listen to – not because she’s other-worldly but the very opposite. She is so down-to-earth and accessible. Her music choices show that too, from Mozart to The Notorious B.I.G. There are so many Zadie Smith novels I want to read (namely White Teeth, N-W and Feel Free), and I studied On Beauty at university, which is excellent.
She discusses with Kirsty Young growing up with British/Jamaican parents in North West London, juggling the two culturally diverse worlds, and the nuances of early success. Her first novel, White Teeth, was published when she was 24 and was wildly successful not just for a debut novel but for such a young writer. The last 13 years have been a wild ride for her, growing and succeeding as a writer amidst the pressure to contribute to what she describes “an ancient tradition” of writing, to which she’s enslaved. Yet, her writing is so deeply present and relevant to the issues of the modern world.
Her favorite track: Tristan and Isolde – Richard Wagner
The book she’d take with her: A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu – Marcel Proust
Her luxury item of choice: Goggles