Lisa Jewell, beloved author of After The Party, Before I Met You, and other novels, answered a few questions for Off the Shelf regarding her love of books and reading. Her new novel, The House We Grew Up In, will be released August 12th.
Tell us about the first book you ever purchased.
Strangely, I don’t have this memory at all. My sisters and I were library kids, our mother took us every week, so maybe I didn’t even buy a book as a child! My earliest memory of taking a book out of the library was one of the Ant & Bee series of books; these were quirky, almost surreal books about best friends Ant (an ant) and Bee (a bee) who travelled around together having offbeat adventures. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were written by an educationalist to teach children to read by themselves.
Have you ever read a book in order to impress someone?
I was married to an intellectual in my early twenties and read pretty much every book on his shelves in order to impress him! The heaviest was probably a book of Noam Chomsky essays. My current husband forced One Hundred Years of Solitude onto me in the early days of our relationship, which I read to please him. And on which we still remain entirely divided.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I was a self-guided reader as a child and went quickly from the classics (The Secret Garden, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) to more adult books. But my favourites were my Agatha Christie’s. I read four a week until I’d bled the library dry.
Is there an author who inspired you to be a writer?
When I was between jobs as a twenty-something, still thinking that writing books was something only self-referential men and middle-aged women did, I read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. It turned my thinking around and made me realise that there was a market for a younger, lighter, contemporary voice, and that it needed to be female. I started writing my first novel later that week.
Is there something on your bookshelves we’d be surprised to find there?
Quite the opposite, I think you’d find my bookshelves utterly predictable. Just piles and piles of page-turn-y contemporary fiction.
Tell us a funny/odd/interesting anecdote from a reading, or book signing.
This is very odd and I’m not sure particularly funny, but a girl once came to a signing holding my backlist and asked me to sign them all to her unborn children as she thought she was going to die young. It was a very strange thing to find myself doing.
What book are you reading right now, and why?
I am reading a book called We Are Called To Rise by American writer Laura McBride. It was sent to me as a proof by her UK publishers and I’m reading it because they did such a good job of making it sound like I’d be mad not to. I’m a quarter of the way through and, so far, I would say they were right.
Is there a book you re-read over and over?
No, I never re-read. My reading pile is too big and tantalizing.
What book have you recommended most recently?
I think it would probably have been the only non-fiction I read last year which was Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, a memoir of very funny letters from the nanny of a famous literary editor in London sent home to her sister in the Midlands in 1980. I’m not sure what an American reader would make of it, it’s very idiosyncratic and achingly British, but it warmed my heart and made me laugh an awful lot.
What book do you feel everyone should read?
If a reader has the gumption, I don’t think anyone should go to their grave without trying a Charles Dickens.
You can find out more about what Lisa Jewell is writing and reading on her Facebook page.
After her grandmother Arlette’s death, Betty is finally ready to begin her life. She had forfeited university, parties, boyfriends, summer jobs—all the usual preoccupations of a woman her age—in order to care for Arlette in their dilapidated, albeit charming home on the English island of Guernsey. Her will included a beneficiary unknown to Betty and her family, a woman named Clara Pickle who presumably could be found at a London address. Now, having landed on a rather shabby street corner in ’90s Soho, Betty is determined to find the mysterious Clara. She’s ready for whatever life has to throw her way. Or so she thinks . . .